When a Negative Becomes a Positive

Absence makes the.heart grow fonder and can also act as proof positive in a case of “missing” evidence or documents.  First, there are two noted exceptions to the hearsay rule for the absence of a record.  Indiana Rule of Evidence 803 has two subdivisions that deal with the admissibility:

803. Hearsay Exceptions: Availability of Declarant Immaterial

The following are not excluded by the hearsay rule, even though the declarant is available as a witness.

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(6)  Records of Regularly Conducted Business Activity. A memorandum, report, record, or data compilation, in any form, of acts, events, conditions, opinions, or diagnoses, made at or near the time by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge, if kept in the course of a regularly conducted business activity, and if it was the regular practice of that business activity to make the memorandum, report, record, or data compilation, all as shown by the testimony or affidavit of the custodian or other qualified witness, unless the source of information or the method or circumstances of preparation indicate a lack of trustworthiness. The term “business” as used in this Rule includes business, institution, association, profession, occupation, and calling of every kind, whether or not conducted for profit.

(7) Absence of Entry in Records Kept in Accordance With the Provisions of Paragraph (6). Evidence that a matter is not included in the memoranda, reports, records, or data compilations, in any form, kept in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (6), to prove the nonoccurrence or nonexistence of the matter, if the matter was of a kind of which a memorandum, report, record, or data compilation was regularly made and preserved, unless the sources of information or other circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness.

(8) Public Records and Reports. Unless the sources of information or other circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness, records, reports, statements, or data compilations in any form, of a public office or agency, setting forth its regularly conducted and regularly recorded activities, or matters observed pursuant to duty imposed by law and as to which there was a duty to report, or factual findings resulting from an investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law. The following are not within this exception to the hearsay rule: (a) investigative reports by police and other law enforcement personnel, except when offered by an accused in a criminal case; (b) investigative reports prepared by or for a government, a public office, or an agency when offered by it in a case in which it is a party; (c) factual findings offered by the government in criminal cases; and (d) factual findings resulting from special investigation of a particular complaint, case, or incident, except when offered by an accused in a criminal case.

(9) Records of Vital Statistics. Records or data compilations in any form, of births, fetal deaths, deaths, or marriages, if the report thereof was made to a public office pursuant to requirements of law.

(10) Absence of Public Record or Entry. To prove the absence of a record, report, statement, or data compilation in any form, or the nonoccurrence or nonexistence of a matter of which a record, report, statement, or data compilation in any form was regularly made and preserved by a public office or agency, evidence in the form of a certification in accordance with Rule 902, or testimony, that a diligent search failed to disclose the record, report, statement, or data compilation, or entry.

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The reason behind the exception for business records and their absence is  the fact that they are regularly maintained records upon which the company relies in conducting its business which assures their trustworthiness. The rules of evidence governing the admission of business records are of common law origin and have evolved on a case-by-case basis to keep pace with the technology of current business methods of record keeping.  This logic supports the existence of an exception for public records ( and their absence) for governmental organizations who must rely on the trustworthiness of their records to carry out their duties.  

Likewise, the absence of a witness can make their prior testimony, statement against interests or dying declaration admissible. See Rule 804. Hearsay Exceptions: Declarant Unavailable.

Finally, if evidence goes missing, then its absence may give rise to a positive inference that the evidence would have been unfavorable had it been found and not gone missing.  In Miller v. Federal Exp. Corp., 6 N.E.3d 1006 (Ind.App.,2014) The Indiana Supreme Court recognized that:

[I]ntentional destruction of potential evidence in order to disrupt or defeat another persons’s right of recovery is highly improper and cannot be justified. The intentional or negligent destruction or spoliation of evidence cannot be condoned and threatens the very integrity of our judicial system. There can be no truth, fairness, or justice in a civil action where relevant evidence has been destroyed before trial. Destroying evidence can destroy fairness and justice, for it increases the risk of an erroneous decision on the merits of the underlying cause of action. Destroying evidence can also increase the costs of litigation as parties attempt to reconstruct the destroyed evidence or to develop other evidence, which may be less accessible, less persuasive, or both.

The spoliation rule also has applies in the cases of an absent witness. If a party has exclusive power to produce a material witness and fails to do so, it may give rise to an inference that the witness would testify unfavorably to the party who had the exclusive control. Breese v. State, 449 N.E.2d 1098 (Ind. Ct. App. 1983); Bowes v. Lambert, 114 Ind. App. 364, 51 N.E.2d 83 (1943); Public Sav. Ins. Co. v. Greenwald, 68 Ind. App. 609, 118 N.E. 556 (1918); Godwin v. De Motte, 64 Ind. App. 394, 116 N.E. 17 (1917). 

The spoliation rule also is enforced in federal court, however, exclusive control and a lack of availability to the complaining party must be shown.  Oxman v. WLS-TV, 12 F.3d 652, 661 (7th Cir. 1993); Chicago Coll. of Osteopathic Med. v. George A. Fuller Co., 719 F.2d 1335, 1353 (7th Cir. 1983); see also Fey v. Walston & Co., 493 F.2d 1036, 1053 (7th Cir. 1974) (where missing witness was beyond subpoena power of defendants and there was evidence both that missing witness was available to adverse party and that missing witness’s testimony could have thrown significant light on crucial question in case, it was error to instruct that jury may infer missing witness’s testimony would be merely “of no aid” rather than “adverse” to non-producing party’s case). 

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About Richard A. Cook

Richard Cook graduated from Purdue University in the Economics Honor Program in 1979 and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1982. Following law school, Richard served as a federal law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. In 1984, Richard began working as Deputy Prosecutor for the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and from there, served as Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. There he handled a number of complex criminal matters and jury trials. While there, Richard received the Chief Postal Inspector's Special Award and a letter of commendation from the U.S. Attorney General for his work prosecuting a major money order fraud scheme being perpetrated out of the Indiana State Prison system. Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's office in 1989, Richard has focused primarily on civil work and is currently a member of the firm Yosha Cook & Tisch in Indianapolis. Richard is also a member of the ITLA, IBA and the ABA, as well as, a fellow for the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

Posted on October 6, 2015, in Evidence, mock trial, Trial Advocacy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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