(a) Review and verify Curriculum Vitae. You can devastate an expert if he
lies on his CV. I have done this before with experts who had a long history of testifying.
Surprisingly, even though they had been around for years as experts no one had ever
checked out their background to see if they were legitimate. In one instance I found that
the expert not only wasn’t a professional engineer, but he had never even completed his
degree in engineering! At that time, I used a private investigator to dig up this information. Today you check such things yourself online.
(b) Internet search of expert. Do Google, Bing, Google Scholar, Yahoo
searches of your expert using the following format: “ EXPERT NAME” AND “keywords”. I use key words and phrases such as “ testimony”, “ppt”, “lawsuit”, “pdf”, “
lawsuit”, “deposition”, “You Tube”, “video”, “MIL”, “motion in limine”, “motion to exclude”, “daubert”, “frye”, “conference presentation”, “author”, “dissertation”, “thesis”,
“capstone”, “expert witness” etc. You can also do a full legal name search using the case
law filter to see if you can find any lawsuits.
(c) Expert databanks. Organizations, attorney associations AAJ, State Trial
Lawyers Association, professional list serves, TrialSmith, Westlaw, Lexus-Nexus, often
provide either searchable databases or bulletin boards where information can be electronically posted for inquiry and response. Some can be used at no cost, while others
charge a fee or subscription for searches.
(d) Search of reported cases. I would examine both civil and criminal court
dockets, PACER, Westlaw, Lexus-Nexus, electronic court records. Your expert may have
testified or could have been excluded as a witness. Does he have convictions? Does he
have legal or financial problems?
(e) Obtain and check references. Your check should include calls to attorneys listed by your expert as well as attorneys discovered in published cases.
(f) Verify licensing. Is your expert really licensed or certified? Check– it
should be free. Has he had any disciplinary actions taken against his professional licensing? How will you handle this at trial?
(g) Review website and advertising of expert. What does he say? Are
articles attached or linked to the website? Check out his CV and terms of engagement as
(h) Review social media of expert. Does the expert have a business or
personal page on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. What articles, videos, or
comments has he posted?
(i) Eyeball test. What kind of appearance does the expert make? Is he goofy
looking? Is he sloppy or slovenly in his appearance? Is he well spoken? Does he make
good eye-contact? Does he fit the part? Does he have charisma or personality? Would
you want him as your teacher? That is what he will be doing for you: teaching the jury
about your case.
(j) Excluded. Has your expert ever been excluded or admitted to testify over the
objection of opposing counsel? He should know this answer and be able to give you
past hearing transcripts, legal briefs and rulings.
You will be surprised by how much exaggeration and unsubstantiated bragging is contained in an expert’s CV. Find your expert’s problems before you spend your money and risk your case by placing it in the hands of the wrong “expert.”
Indiana Rule of Evidence 801(A) provides:
A “statement” is (1) an oral or written assertion or (2) nonverbal conduct of a person, if it is intended by the person as an assertion.A tacit admission may be made when a person remains silent or makes an equivocal response to an accusation which the person would ordinarily be expected to deny. The accusation must be made in the presence and hearing of the accused person, and the person must have an opportunity to respond. 16 INPRAC § 7.9d Criminal Procedure–Pretrial. A tacit admission may be made when a person remains silent or makes an equivocal response to an accusation which the person would ordinarily be expected to deny. The accusation must be made in the presence and hearing of the accused person and the person must have an opportunity to respond. 12 Ind. Law Encyc., Evidence, §§ 135, 136; House v. State, 535 N.E.2d 103 (Ind. 1989)(held silence or equivocal response to assertion made by another, which would ordinarily be expected to be denied, is tacit admission, and the assertion and the words or conduct are admissible if reaction is not clear denial.), citing with approval to, Moredock v. State (1982), Ind., 441 N.E.2d 1372, 1374; Wickliffe v. State (1981), Ind., 424 N.E.2d 1007, 1009; Jethroe v. State (1974), 262 Ind. 505, 319 N.E.2d 133, 138–139. The chance to turn a person’s silence into a weapon should not be missed. It could be silence in the face of strong accusations made during the course of the meeting or even a judicial hearing. The key is to recognize situations which present themselves during the course of your investigation. The implied assertions for silence may be made during the course of custodial interrogation, during the course of a guilty plea or even during a sentencing hearing. Such instances may be pure gold for your case. So be alert.
The defense oftentimes wants to muddy the waters and misdirect or sway the jury away from a person’s cause with information that is irrelevant or unfairly prejudicial. Wrongful death cases are no exception and remarriage is one of those topics. Fortunately, Indiana court’s have joined the majority of jurisdictions which have prohibited such tactics by the defense as irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial.
The general rule in Indiana is that in a wrongful death action a right of action or an amount of recovery is not affected by the fact that the surviving spouse has remarried or contemplates remarriage. Wabash R. Co. v. Gretzinger (1914), 182 Ind. 155, 104 N.E. 69; Consolidated Stone Co. v. Morgan (1903), 160 Ind. 241, 66 N.E. 696; Gilmer v. Carney, 608 N.E.2d 709 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993); City of Bloomington v. Holt (1977) 172 Ind. App. 650, 711, 361 N.E.2d 1211(held motion in limine prohibiting mention of the fact, probability or possibility of remarriage of the plaintiff including with whom he is residing was proper). This restriction applies and restricts proof that a spouse is living with another person and applies regardless of gender. City of Bloomington v. Holt, supra.
The enactment of IC 34-4-36-1,2 concerning payments from collateral sources should not be read or interpreted as changing Indiana’s traditional common law view. The collateral source statute clearly addresses only evidence of monetary payments. Gilmer v. Carney, supra. Since statutes in derogation of the common law are to be strictly construed and should not be extended beyond their express terms or what they unmistakably imply, Indianapolis Power Light v. Brad Snodgrass, Inc. (1991) Ind., 578 N.E.2d 669, IC 34-4-36-2 should not be extended to embrace nonmonetary items such as remarriage. Id.
So be ready for this issue and address it in your pretrial motion in limine so that the defense is prohibited from throwing a skunk into the jury box.
Indiana has long embraced the “common knowledge exception” to requirements of expert testimony in certain matters. A physician’s allegedly negligent act or omission can be so obvious that expert testimony is unnecessary. Wright v. Carter, 622 N.E.2d 170, 171 (Ind. 1993).
In Indiana, cases where expert opinion evidence is not necessary typically involve the failure of the operating physician to remove some foreign object from the patient’s body. Funk v. Bonham (1932), 204 Ind. 170, 183 N.E. 312 (sponge left in abdomen), Ciesiolka v. Selby (1970), 147 Ind. App. 396, 261 N.E.2d 95 (teflon mesh left in abdomen); Klinger v. Caylor (1971),148 Ind. App. 508, 267 N.E.2d 848 (“surgical padding” left in intestinal tract); and Burke v. Capello (1988), Ind.,520 N.E.2d 439 (cement left in hip). Likewise, in a similar fashion, res ipsa loquitur applied when a patient’s oxygen mask caught fire during surgery, see Cleary v.Manning, 884 N.E.2d 335, 339 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008).
This same sort of common sense approach is endorsed in other jurisdictions as well.Bernsden v. Johnson, 174 Kan. 230, 236-37, 255 P.2d 1033 (1953)(applying exception when post-surgery choking was caused by metal disc lodged in patient’s throat); Biggs v. Cumberland County Hospital System, Inc., 69 N.C.App. 547, 317 S.E.2d 421 (1984) (where patient is known to be in weakened condition and is left alone in shower, where she falls, expert testimony on standards for nurse’s aides not required); Burks v. Christ Hosp., 19 Ohio St.2d 128, 131, 249 N.E.2d 829 (1969) (sedated, obese patient fell from hospital bed without side rails); Cockerton v. Mercy Hospital Medical Center, 490 N.W.2d 856 (Iowa App.1992)(where patient fell while in x-ray room expert testimony was not required on hospital’s negligence); Dimora v. Cleveland Clinic Found., 114 Ohio App.3d 711, 718, 683 N.E.2d 1175 (8th Dist.1996) (patient fell after student nurse left her unattended at her walker while opening a door); German v. Nichopoulos, 577 S.W.2d 197, 202-03 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1978) overruled on other grounds by Seavers, 9 S.W.3d at 96; Green v. Lilliewood, 272 S.C. 186, 249 S.E.2d 910 (1978) (holding tubal ligation rendering intrauterine device and other birth control device useless constitutes a matter of common knowledge); Hickman v. Sexton Dental Clinic, P.A., 295 S.C. 164, 367 S.E.2d 453 (Ct. App. 1988) (holding evidence presented was sufficient for the jury to infer without the aid of expert testimony a breach of duty to dental patient where patient testified an unsupervised dental assistant rammed a sharp object into patient’s mouth); Hubbard v. Reed, 168 N.J. 387, 395, 774 A.2d 495, 500 (2001) (case in which the defendant dentist allegedly pulled the wrong tooth); LaCourse v. Flower Hosp., 6th Dist. Lucas No. L–02–1004, 2002-Ohio-3816, 2002 WL 1729897, ¶ 16;) McConkey v. State, 128 S.W.3d 656, 660 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003); Murphy v. Schwartz, 739 S.W.2d 777, 778 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1986); Natale v. Camden County Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575 (3d Cir.2003) (personnel failed to call treating physician to determine how often insulin was to be administered); Newhall v. Central Vermont Hospital, Inc., 133 Vt. 572, 349 A.2d 890 (1975)(expert testimony not required where nurse failed to respond to sedated patient’s call and patient got out of bed and fell); Palanque v. Lambert-Woolley, 168 N.J. 398, 400, 774 A.2d 501 (2001)(misread the specimen identification numbers as plaintiff’s test result numbers and mistakenly determined that plaintiff had an ectopic pregnancy) Robbins v. Jewish Hospital of St. Louis, 663 S.W.2d 341 (Mo.App.1983) (expert testimony not required where bed rails not raised and brain damaged patient fell out); Rule v. Cheeseman, Executrix, 181 Kan. 957, 963, 317 P.2d 472 (1957) (all four cases applying exception when sponge was left in patient after surgery); Schraffenberger v. Persinger, Malik & Haaf, M.D.’s, Inc., 114 Ohio App.3d 263, 267, 683 N.E.2d 60 (1st Dist.1996) (patient alleged that doctor negligently and erroneously informed him that he was sterile following a vasectomy); Schwartz v. Abay, 26 Kan.App.2d 707, 995 P.2d 878 (1999) (applying exception where surgeon removed 60% of the wrong vertebral disc); Seavers v. Methodist Med. Ctr. of Oak Ridge, 9 S.W.3d 86, 92 (Tenn. 1999); Thomas v. Dootson, 377 S.C. 293, 659 S.E.2d 253 (Ct. App. 2008) (recognizing expert testimony was not required for claim arising from a surgical drill that burned skin on contact because claim would fall within the common knowledge or experience of laymen); Veesart v. Community Hospital Asso., 211 Kan. 896, 508 P.2d 506 (1973) (expert evidence not required where elderly patient fell while going to bathroom); Walker v. Southeast Alabama Medical Center, 545 So.2d 769 (Ala.1989)(where bed rail left down contrary to doctor’s order and patient fell, no expert testimony required on standard of care); Washington Hospital Center v. Martin, 454 A.2d 306 (D.C.App.1982)(mere fact that patient falls in hospital will not normally require expert testimony on hospital’s negligence).
Medical malpractice litigation is expensive enough for a citizen to pursue. Common sense propositions should not require expert testimony. The underlying purpose of Indiana’s Rules of Evidence is set forth in Rule 102:
Purpose and Construction
These rules shall be construed to secure fairness in administration, elimination of unjustifiable expense and delay, and promotion of growth and development of the law of evidence to the end that the truth may be ascertained and proceedings justly determined.
The implementation of the “common knowledge exception” “eliminates unjustifiable expense” so that the “truth may be ascertained” and “proceedings justly determined.” Trial Rule 1 of Indiana’s Rules of Trial Procedure echoes similar sentiments noting:
They shall be construed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.
The costs of medical malpractice cases are such that only a handful of cases are economically feasible to pursue, thereby closing the court house doors to most claims. Gary T. Schwartz, Medical Malpractice, Tort, Contract, and Managed Care, 1998 U. ILL. L. REV. 885, 895 (discussing how non-“large-damage” medical malpractice claims are impractical); Jeffrey J. Parker, Comment, Contingent Expert Witness Fees: Access and Legitimacy, 64 S. CAL. L. REV. 1363, 1369 (1991) (“[F]ees to employ necessary expert witnesses constitute substantial litigation expenses.”).
So remember that the “common knowledge exception” can be uncommonly economical and effective.
“Practice… We talkin ’bout practice.” – Allen Iverson 2002
Just like Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia Sixers, no one likes to practice, but it is necessary if your witness and you are going to stay in sync. In order for your witness examination to be credible and persuasive, both the questioner and the witness must be on the same page. Otherwise, the testimony will come across like two ships passing in the night. The only way to get a smooth and flawless examination is for the questioner and witness to know exactly what is expected by the other. Obviously, the most important witness is usually your own client. Any run-through with your client is privileged as attorney-client communications because you are providing legal advice about how to handle their direct examination. (IRE 501 and I.C.34-1-14-5 and I.C. 34-1-60-4.) I would videotape the client’s testimony and allow them to see it so they can critique their own the delivery of their testimony.
Make sure you give the witness or your client copies of any earlier statements/depositions and, if possible, have them return to the scene of the incident to check it, note landmarks and refresh their recollection. If at all possible, you should try to meet with the witness or client at the scene of the incident so that you can discuss the scene and make sure you’re both talking about the same thing. If this is not possible, an acceptable substitute is to conduct a virtual tour of the scene utilizing Google maps or Google Earth.
Emphasize to the client or witness that accuracy is the most important thing. This requires that they clearly understand the question and avoid any exaggerations or opinions. They should stay factual in their descriptions. When a witness or client slides into opinions, they enter dangerous territory. They are prone to guess, speculate, exaggerate or just plain get it wrong.
My own favorite saying is: “Don’t take a good case, try to make it a great case, and turn it into a bad case.” The first rule I learned when as an insurance defense attorney was to let a plaintiff exaggerate all they want. There is nothing that undermines a claim or gives rise to the all-popular defense mantra of “secondary gain” than needless exaggeration.
The flip side of this is to water down answers with qualifiers such as, “I think,” “I believe,” or, “In my opinion,” when they actually know the facts. Make sure your client or witness avoids using such terminology. It is better to show that you don’t know or recall than to guess or speculate. Also, pay attention to clients who raise the pitch of their voice at the end of sentences. It makes them sound tentative or like they are checking with you on whether their answer is correct. You should only raise the pitch of your voice at the end of a sentence when you are asking a question.
Once again, the primary rule is to answer truthfully and accurately.
In my last post, I discussed an analogy to deal with tactics used by your opponent to muddy the waters. Well, the problem is you have to drag the hogs out of the spring waters and it takes time to clear matters up. What if you could keep them out of the water altogether?
Have you ever had a defense doctor summarize everything under the sun regarding your client’s medical history in an effort to cloud the issues or mislead the jury, knowing you cannot afford to drag every doctor into court to undo the harm? Well a good portion of such evidence may be totally inadmissible.
Contrary to what a number of attorneys argue. The Rules of Evidence do not permit the admission of materials relied upon by expert witness for truth of matters they contain, if the materials are otherwise inadmissible. Rules of Evidence Rule 703. Faulkner v. Markkay of Indiana, Inc., 633 N.E.2d 798. (Ind. Ct. App 1996). The Rules simply allow the expert’s opinion to be based upon matters outside the official court record, if it is the sort of information typically relied upon in the expert’s field to render an opinion.
Evidence Rule 703 states, “[e]xperts may testify to opinions based on inadmissible evidence, provided that it is of the type reasonably relied upon by a experts in the field.” Ind. Evid. R. 702 permits the admission of expert opinion testimony but not opinions contained in documents prepared out of court by other medical doctors. Evidence Rule 703 permits a testifying expert to rely on such materials, including inadmissible hearsay, in forming the basis of his opinion.
However, it does not allow an expert’s reliance on hearsay or other inadmissible evidence to be used as a conduit for placing unavailable experts or physicians’ statements before a jury. In other words, the expert witness must rely on his own expertise in reaching his opinion and may not simply repeat the opinions of others. See Miller v. State, 575 N.E.2d 272, 274-75 (Ind.1991) (physician could rely upon but not repeat what another physician told him about diagnosis of defendant’s girlfriend).
Opinions or diagnosis of doctors who are unavailable to testify and not subject to cross examination do not come in as business records under Rule of Evidence 803(6). Where a party seeks to admit medical or hospital records that contain opinions, the proponent of the records is required to establish the expertise of the opinion giver under Rule of Evidence 702. Cook v. Whitesell-Sherman, 796 N.E.2d 271, 278 (Ind. 2003); Wilkinson v. Swafford, 811 N.E.2d 374, 391 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004)(citing In re Matter of E.T. and B.T., 808 N.E.2d 639 (Ind. 2004)), abrogated on other grounds by Willis v. Westerfield, 839 N.E.2d 1179 (Ind. 2006); Walker v. Cuppett, 808 N.E.2d 85, 97-98 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). If the proponent fails to satisfy this foundational requirement, then such records are inadmissible. See Also. Schloot v. Guinevere Real Estate Corp., 697 N.E.2d 1273 (Ind.App.1998), (held that medical opinions within the certified medical records were not admissible). Similarly, Rule of Evidence 703 permits experts to base their opinions on hearsay, but does not permit them to testify as to hearsay medical opinions.
Nor are they admissible as statements made for purposes of diagnosis or treatment under Rule of Evidence 803(4). That exception is limited to only statements made by patients, not doctors. Sibbing v. Cave, 922 N.E.2d 594, (Ind. 2010)(prohibited plaintiff from reciting hearsay testimony at trial about what doctor told her about her injuries and diagnosis).
Finally, if such opinions or diagnosis are included in your client’s medical history, such statements represent multiple levels of hearsay based upon conversations by the client with doctors or other healthcare providers who are not subject to cross-examination and whose qualifications to render an expert opinion have not yet been established. Each level of hearsay must separately satisfy the requirements of Evidence Rules 702, 802 and 901 (authenticity). See Rule of Evidence 805 which deals with multiple levels of hearsay. This rule states, “Hearsay included within hearsay is not excluded under the hearsay rule if each part of the combined statements conforms with an exception to the hearsay rule provided in these rules.”
One caveat to note on cross-examination of the defense doctor. Rule 703 does allow for you to inquire on cross examination at to the basis. It provides “The expert may in any event be required to disclose the underlying facts or data on cross-examination.” However, be careful because you could open the door to inadmissible and damaging items being brought out on redirect.
Be ready for this issue and close the floodgates of misinformation through the use of timely objections or a motion in limine.
I was looking for a program that could emulate the structure of my paper file system that I use for jury trials. I looked at several programs that were touted as the answer for use on my iPad. I looked at all the Apple App World had to offer to no avail. I download one such program and found it to be slow and cumbersome to navigate through. I needed something with multiple tabs that could take advantage of the iPad touch-screen to navigate quickly to pull up needed information. This has always been one of the limitations of a laptop… its hard to navigate and pull up information as fast as you can with a well-organized physical paper file. After giving up hope, I came across such app called simply “Outline” for the iPad. It will import “notebooks” from the Microsoft program One-Note for ready use on the iPad. Microsoft’s OneNote works well and is affordable. It costs about $15.00 and the OneNote is likewise affordable and is typically included as part of the Microsoft Suite of Windows Business Programs. The OneNote program was designed by Microsoft as a program that could be used by students to organize their class notes and research projects. It is similar to EverNote.
I usually set up and organize my case file in the OneNote program on my desktop at work and then transfer the file to my iPad using one of several applications or programs. The iPad app can be synced with your laptop or desktop computer by a number of means, including Drop Box and iTunes. The materials are all organized just like the hard copy of my files and you can paste either links to or an electronic copy of documents such as depositions, medical journals articles and pleadings for full review.
So such as, I have major categories of documents such as pleadings, correspondence, opening, closing, instructions, pretrial motions, jury selection, evidence research, law research, medical research, settlement demands, medical records, witnesses, defense expert, exhibits, investigation, etc. These categories are listed across the top and can be scrolled through side by side. Individual documents in each major group are shown as tabs on the side of the screen and can be scrolled through up and down with a touch of your finger. I organize the tabs on top and on the side alphabetically or numerically as the case may be for ready access. If you tap the page with your finger, the program will open that page.
On each page you can paste objects or links. These can consist of Word Documents, text files, PDF, audio recordings, photographs, and deposition transcripts. These can be tapped and viewed with other applications or through “quick view” which is compatible with most of your documents. Audio files can be played with other compatible applications you have installed on your iPad. You can also electronically “print” a copy of the file onto the page as well and scroll up and down the page and read it.
It not only gives you the capability of carrying your entire file up to the podium, it will allow you to take multiple files home with you in your brief case. I can take home what amounts to twenty or thirty banker boxes home with me on my iPad. The “Outline” program accommodates multiple “notebooks” which can be search for text individually or collectively. I even have a separate notebook set up with tabs for procedural and evidentiary research notes for ready reference at Court. Below is an example of how a notebook appears:
I hope you will try this system. It is quite amazing once you get the hang of it. It is a cost-effective solution that you can easily tailor to the way that you organize your trial and case files.
When after an event, measures are taken which, if taken previously, would have made the event less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove negligence or culpable conduct in connection with the event. The rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of subsequent measures when offered for another purpose, such as proving ownership, control, or feasibility of precautionary measures, if controverted, or impeachment.
Indiana Evidence Rule 407 is similar to its federal counterpart. See Fed.R.Evid. 407. Pursuant to this rule, evidence of post-occurrence remedial measures is generally inadmissible absent an excepted use. State Auto Ins. Co. v. Flexdar, Inc., 937 N.E.2d 1203, 1207 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010).
Hagerman Constr., Inc. v. Copeland, 697 N.E.2d 948, 954 (Ind.Ct.App.1998), trans. denied. Evidence of a subsequent remedial measure may be admitted when offered for purposes other than proving culpable conduct. Id. Examples listed in the rule include when done for purposes of ownership, control, or feasibility of precautionary measures, if controverted, or impeachment.
Two policy considerations underlie the prohibitions of Rule 407. Strack & Van Til, Inc. v. Carter, 803 N.E.2d 666, 670 (Ind.Ct.App.2004). First, that permitting proof of subsequent remedial measures will deter a party from taking corrective action to prevent future injuries. Id. Second, the general lack of probative value of using subsequent measures in proving omission or misconduct. Id. at 670-71.
Rule 407 of the Indiana Rules of Evidence is applied mostly in tort cases. See 23 Charles A. Wright & Kenneth W. Graham, Jr., Federal Practice & Procedure § 5285 (1st ed.1980). The most common types of remedial measures addressed under the rule are product design changes, additions of safety devices, warning provisions, and abandonment of tools or products. 12 Robert Lowell Miller, Jr., Indiana Practice: Indiana Evidence § 407.101.
Rule 407 is worded broadly and has been applied in other contexts such as intentional tort and contract claims. See Wright & Graham, supra, § 5283; see also 1 Michael H. Graham, Handbook of Federal Evidence § 407:1 n.6 (6th ed. 2009) (“The breadth of exclusion under Rule 407 includes … [m]odifications made to clarify contract language.”). For example Rule 407 has been used to exclude evidence of subsequent policy revisions in insurance coverage disputes. State Auto Ins. Co. v. Flexdar, Inc., supra; Pastor v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 487 F.3d 1042, 1045 (7th Cir.2007).
I have personally used a subsequent remedial measure, taken before evidence could be collected and photographed, to prove spoliation of evidence found at the scene of an accident or a crime.
QUESTION #1: Is it Authentic? (If Not, How do I Authenticate/Identify the Evidence?)
Is the item the “Real McCoy”? Is it what you say it is? To establish that an item is “authentic,” think about the problem from the standpoint of how you determine whether anything you come in contact is “real” versus being a “fake,” or if it has somehow been “altered” or “changed.” The more “generic” an item of evidence is, the greater the level of care and proof required to establish it is “real.” The more unique or one-of-a-kind an item of evidence is, the easier it will be to prove that it is what you say it is. Legal cases typically discuss whether an item of evidence is “fungible” versus “non-fungible.” A “fungible” item of evidence is something that is generic in character, such as a white powdery substance.
For fungible items, such as blood and drugs, an adequate foundation requires that the whereabouts of the item be shown from the time it came into the possession of the party (or state) until it is admitted into evidence at trial. Bell v. State, 610 N.E.2d 229, 233 (Ind. 1993). A proper foundation requires that a witness identify the item, and the item is relevant to the disposition of the case. Id. The party presenting the evidence must lay an adequate foundation by providing reasonable assurances that the evidence was undisturbed as it passed from the custody of one person to the next (the chain of custody). Id. If the party presenting the item presents evidence that strongly suggests the exact whereabouts of the evidence at all times, that is sufficient. Id.; Garrett v. State, 602 N.E.2d 139, 142 (Ind. 1992)(positive identification is not required). A reasonable probability that it is what you say it is will normally be sufficient to have the item admitted into evidence. Lahr v. State, 640 N.E.2d 756, 761 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994). Once a reasonable probability is shown, any other factual issues only impact the exhibit’s evidentiary weight, not it’s admissibility. Malone v. State, 700 N.E.2d 780, 782 (Ind. 1998).
On the other hand, for non-fungible items, like guns and vehicles (which typically have unique serial numbers or VINs), the party presenting the evidence need only show that the item is what it is purported to be, and that it is in a substantially unchanged state from the time it was first collected. Trotter v. State, 559 N.E.2d 585, 591 (Ind.1990).
A similar problem arises with documentary evidence such as letters, notes or wills. Who authored the document? Has the document been changed or altered? The degree of proof required to establish authenticity is only slight. Once established, the document may be presented to the finder of fact. Pate v. First Nat. Bank of Aurora, 63 Ind. 254 (1878). Once this initial threshold is met by the proponent of the evidence, any disputes go to the weight the evidence is to be accorded by the jury, as opposed to its admissibility.
Authenticity typically is established by the person who first found the item. You must establish that it is the same item that originally came into that person’s possession, and that it is unchanged and has not been altered. With a generic/fungible item of evidence, care must be taken to seal it up in a tamper-proof container that has a unique means of identification (evidence number assigned and dated by the person who originally secured the evidence); and a secure storage/retrieval method must be used to hold it. (e.g., evidence clerk or custodian who has held the item of evidence in a restricted area). If anyone removed the item of evidence for purposes of testing, that person may be required to provide testimony as well to explain what if any changes in the item occurred as part of the testing process.
Indiana Rules of Evidence 901(Requirement of Authentication or Identification), 902 (Self-authentication) and 903 (Subscribing Witness’ Testimony Unnecessary) directly address issues of authenticity and provide examples of how to authenticate various items of evidence this with or without a sponsoring witness. Examples of authenticity under Indiana Rule of Evidence 901 include: 1) testimony of witness with knowledge; 2) non-expert opinion on handwriting; 3) comparison by trier of fact or expert witness; 4) distinctive characteristics; 5) distinctive characteristics taken in conjunction with circumstances; 6) voice identification; 7) telephone conversations; 8) public records or reports; 9) process or system, and 10) methods provided by statute or rule.
Indiana Rule of Evidence 902 provides a list of various classes of documents that are self-authenticating, which include: 1) domestic public documents under seal; 2) domestic public documents not under seal; 3) foreign public documents; 4) certified copies of public records; 5) official publications by a public authority; 6) newspapers and periodicals; 7) trade inscriptions, signs, tags, or labels; 8) acknowledged documents; 9) commercial paper and related documents; 10) presumptions under Acts of Congress; 11) certified domestic records of regularly conducted activity, and 12) certified foreign records of regularly conducted activity.
Indiana Evidence Rule 903 provides the means by which notarized or acknowledged documents may be admitted without calling the witness who notarized the document. This Rule provides:
“SUBSCRIBING WITNESS’ TESTIMONY UNNECESSARY. The testimony of a subscribing witness is not necessary to authenticate a writing unless required by the laws of the jurisdiction whose laws govern the validity of the writing.”
A notarized document with an appropriate acknowledgment and seal is prima facie evidence of authenticity. Indiana Code 34-37-1-5. Under I. C. 34-37-1-5, when a document is under seal and signature of an out-of-state notary public, it shall be received as presumptive evidence of the document’s authenticity. Usually authentication of an official record requires the officer having custody of the record to attest, by either testimony or through a certification, that it is a true and accurate copy of an official original record. Liberty Nat. Bank and Trust Co. v. Payton, 602 N.E.2d 530, (Ind. Ct. App. 1992).
Contracts or other documents upon which an action is based and attached to the party’s complaint or cross/counterclaim are considered authentic unless the document’s authenticity is challenged in a verified response to the claim or complaint. See Ind. Rule of Trial Procedure 9.2. This rule provides “[w]hen any pleading … is founded on a written instrument, the original, or a copy thereof, must be included in or filed with the pleading… and “shall be taken as part of the record.” When such a document is included in or filed with the pleading, execution of such instrument, endorsement, or assignment shall be deemed to be established and the instrument, if otherwise admissible, shall be deemed admitted into evidence in the action without proving its execution unless execution be denied under oath in the responsive pleading or by an affidavit. I encourage all to thoroughly review this rule anytime such a claim is based upon a written instrument.
Remember, agreeing or stipulating that a document is authentic does not necessarily mean the item is admissible. You need to address all of the issues that affect a document’s admissibility, so please read on.
QUESTION #2: Is it Hearsay?
When I took evidence in class over 30 years ago, my professor cautioned that the “Hearsay Rule” and the “Rule against Perpetuities” in real property class were two of the most difficult concepts to master. My daughter, who is in law school now, advises that the “Rule against Perpetuities” is not even taught in law school anymore. On the other hand, if you are going to try cases you need to understand and quickly recognize what hearsay is. The way I break it down is as follows:
a. Was the statement (oral or written) first made outside of the courtroom? If the statement is being made for the very first time in the courtroom, then it is not hearsay. If the witness is repeating something that was said outside of the courtroom, or the document being tendered as an exhibit was drafted outside of the courtroom, then you need to ask the next question.
b.Is there a statement of fact being conveyed? If the statement is a question or a command, then it is not hearsay. “Hearsay” is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Ind. R. of Evid. 801(c). Only declarative statements of fact can be hearsay (i.e. the car is red). A “question” or a “command” is neither true or false.
c.Does the statement only have evidentiary value at trial if it is true? For example, a false statement made to a victim by a con man in a fraud case is not being offered because it is true. In fact, it is being offered because it is false to show the “effect of the hearer”. Therefore, it is not hearsay.
d.Does the statement fall outside of the definition for non-hearsay as a prior statement by a witness subject to cross-examination? For example, if the statement is not considered an admission by party-opponent offered against them (i.e. their own statement; a statement of another adopted by the party; a statement by an authorized spokesperson, employee or agent; or that of a co-conspirator in furtherance of the joint scheme) then it is non-hearsay by definition. Indiana Rule of Evidence 801(d).
If you answered “yes” to each of these questions, then you have hearsay and need to look for an exception to the hearsay rule under Indiana Rules of Evidence 803 (hearsay exceptions; availability of declarant immaterial), 804 (hearsay exceptions; declarant unavailable), 806 (attacking and supporting credibility of declarant) or 807 (residual or catchall exception).
Another rule that can impact the admissibility of a hearsay statement, that is often overlooked, is Indiana Rule of Evidence 1007 which deals with testimony or written admissions of a party. Rule 1007 provides:
Contents of writings, recordings, or photographs may be proved by the testimony or deposition of the party against whom offered or by that party’s written admission, without accounting for the nonproduction of the original.
This rule can be very powerful in situations where you take a Trial Rule 30(B)(6) deposition of a party or a corporate representative. If they summarize written policies or the content of documents, recordings or photos, then you can dispense with using the original.
QUESTION #3: Is There a Proper Foundation?
These are usually preliminary questions of fact to the admissibility of a document or statement. In a bind, the Indiana Rules of Evidence provide some assistance in establishing an item’s authenticity or other foundational prerequisites. Rule 104(a) of the Indiana Rules of Evidence allows a court to consider matters outside of the record presented to the jury. Under Rule 104(a) you can sometimes establish foundational requirements outside of the presence of the jury. This portion of the Rule provides:
(a) IN GENERAL. The court must decide any preliminary question about whether a witness is qualified, a privilege exists, or evidence is admissible. In so deciding, the court is not bound by evidence rules, except those on privilege. [Emphasis Added].
This means, theoretically speaking, that the court is free to suspend the Rules of Evidence in making foundational determinations, and could theoretically rely on otherwise inadmissible information in assessing whether an item meets the foundational requirements. Foundation is needed to establish:
1.Authenticity. Is it the “Real McCoy”? Does it have a proper chain of custody?
2.Competency, expertise or qualifications to render a lay or expert opinion or testify in general (i.e. a person cannot appreciate the significance of their oath to tell the truth). See Indiana Rules of Evidence 701 and 702.
3.The requirements of a hearsay exception.
4.The truth and accuracy of a depiction through the use of a copy, duplicate, photograph, x-ray, diagram, recording, video, printout, etc.
5.The validity of the procedure and results of forensic testing or examinations. (DNA, blood typing, fiber/hair analysis, fingerprints, handwriting identification, etc.).
QUESTION #4: Is it Relevant?
“Relevant evidence” means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Ind. R. of Evid. 401. It does not have to win the case to be admissible, it just has to have a tendency to help your case or hurt the other side’s case. All relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by the United States or Indiana constitutions, by statute not in conflict with these rules, by these rules or by other rules applicable in the courts of this State. Evidence that is not relevant is not admissible. Ind. R. of Evid. 402.
QUESTION #5: Should the Evidence be Excluded?
There are a number of reasons an item could be excluded, assuming a timely and specific objection is made. The following is a checklist of such reasons:
a.Irrelevant. See I.R.E. 401 and 402 (Relevancy).
b.Violates the Best Evidence Rule. I.R.E. 1002 (Requirement of Original).
c.Privileged Evidence. I.R.E. 501, and I.C. 34-46-3-1. (Attorney-Client, Work Product, Official Information, Deliberative Process/Self-Critical Analysis, Husband-Wife, Minister-Penitent, Doctor-Patient, Psychologist, Accountant, Insured-Insurer, News Source, Confidential Informant, Trade Secrets, Self- Incrimination, Mental Health Records, etc.).
d.Improper Conclusion or Opinion. (I.R.E. 701 and 702).
e.Hearsay. (I.R.E. 801, 802, 803, 804, 805, and 806).
f.Cumulative, Repetitive, Unfairly Prejudicial, Misleading or Confusion of the Issues. (I.R.E. 403).
g.Competency or Lack of Firsthand Knowledge. (I.R.E. 601, 602, 605, 606).
h.Lack of Foundation.
i.Parole Evidence Rule/Four Corners Doctrine. (Dicen v. New Sesco, Inc., 839 N.E.2d 684, 688 (Ind. 2005) and I.C. 26-1-2-202.)
j.Deadman’s Statute. (Ind. Code 34-45-2-4).
k.Statute of Frauds. (I.C. 26-1-2-202, IC 32-21-1-1, Requirement of written agreement).
l.Improper Impeachment. (I.R.E. 613).
m.Subsequent Remedial Measures. (I.R.E. 407).
n.Irrelevant, Settlement Discussions. (I.R.E. 408).
o.Irrelevant, Evidence of Liability Insurance. (I.R.E. 411).
p.Irrelevant, Payment of Medical Expenses. (I.R.E.409).
q.Irrelevant, Withdrawal of Pleas or Offers. (I.R.E. 410).
r.Irrelevant, Evidence of Past Sexual Conduct. (I.R.E. 412).
s.Irrelevant, Evidence of Bad Acts. (I.R.E. 404 and 608).
t.Irrelevant, Evidence of Character. (I.R.E. 405).
u.Irrelevant, Evidence of Prior Conviction. (I.R.E. 609).
v.Irrelevant, Evidence of Religious Beliefs or Opinions. (I.R.E. 610).
w.Failure to Disclose Evidence as part of Discovery or Pretrial Conference Proceedings. (Ind. T.R. 16 and 26(E)).
x.Unrecorded Statements During Custodial Interrogation. (I.R.E. 617).
y.Involuntary or Coerced Statement in Violation of Due Process. Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to U.S. Constitution; Indiana Constitution, Article 1., Sec. 15.
z.Violation of Miranda and Right to Counsel. Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to U.S. Constitution; Indiana Constitution, Article 1., Sec. 13 and 14.
aa.Product of an Improper Search and Seizure. Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to U.S. Constitution; Indiana Constitution, Article 1., Sec. 11 and 15.
QUESTION #6: What is the Proper Way to Introduce the Item into Evidence?
Check with the court reporter or other attorneys to learn of any idiosyncrasies the presiding judge has concerning the presentation of exhibits and approaching a witness during the examination. When in doubt, ask for permission before approaching a witness. The following is a suggested procedure for admitting documentary evidence:
a.Have the exhibit marked (if not pre-marked) in advance of the trial.
b.Approach opposing counsel’s table and allow them to examine the exhibit prior to approaching the witness if the exhibit was not disclosed in advance.
c.Seek permission from the court to approach the witness.
d.Show the witness the exhibit, and ask him to identify it for the record without disclosing its content.
e.Establish the document’s authenticity and any foundational prerequisites for purposes of satisfying objections under the hearsay rule or the rules governing opinions.
f.Tender the exhibit for admission into evidence and address any objections.
g.Obtain a ruling from the court on the item’s admissibility.
h.If the ruling is adverse, try to remedy the objection.
i.If the court continues to deny admission of the exhibit, then make an offer of proof outside of the presence or hearing of the jury and have the exhibit made part of the record as part of your offer to prove. (I.R.E 103).
j.If admitted, ask permission to have the exhibit shown or published to the jurors.
k.If the jurors are allowed to review the exhibit, wait until their review is finished before asking any further questions so their attention is not divided.
You should run through these questions any time you are preparing for a trial. You should find case law or rules to support your position on admissibility and make note of them in your witness outline or exhibit list. If you are sure a matter will become contested, have extra copies of your case law, statute or rules so that they can be provided to the court and opposing counsel.
Finally, during the course of a trial have you ever had an ” unexpected” legal issues arise and say, I know there is a case or rule out there on point, but I just cannot remember it? The best way to prepare for such issues is to keep a trial notebook.
What is a trial notebook? Well, my trial notebook represents 30+ years of knowledge I have gained through legal research, review of advance sheets and hard knocks in the courtroom. It covers jury selection issues, jury instruction, motion in limine topics, trial procedure and evidentiary issues. I focus on issues that could come up unexpectedly during a trial where it is difficult to conduct legal research. For years,I kept a three-ring binder with lettered tabs from A to Z. I used re-enforced three-ring paper and made notes on matters. When I come across an issue which might arise during a trial, I make a note and file it under the subject heading and index it under the proper lettered tab. I have been slowly transferring this information to an electronic trial note book. I use Microsoft OneNote and an iPad application called “Outline” which allows me to create various tabs and alphabetize the topics. Below is an example of a note I have listed alphabetically under “P” in my trial notebook:
Privilege – Work Product – I.D. of Witness Statements
An interrogatory invades the thought processes of counsel, and tends to reveal the detailed pattern of investigation conducted by the counsel by asking for the names and addresses of all persons interviewed by counsel. It has been held that such information is protected by the work product privilege and T.R. 26. See generally, United States v. Renault,Inc. (1960), S.D.N.Y. 26 F.R.D. 23. Massachusetts v. First National Supermarkets, Inc. (1986) D. Mass., 112 F.R.D. 149, 152-153.
In my trial notebook, I concentrate on areas involving discovery issues, jury selection, evidentiary foundations, privilege, hearsay, relevancy, authentication, jury instructions, motion in limine topics, procedural issues and motions for directed verdict, as these issues can arise during the course of a trial with little or no time for research. A judge will be duly impressed with your ability to rapidly address such issues. Start today and begin keeping your trial notebook. It will make you a better advocate and attorney. Before you know it you will be able to cite actual authority for your legal position at a moment’s notice.