Getting It Into Evidence
By: Jeffery S. Watson
Most of you know that I’m a practicing attorney in Ohio with a history of trial work and litigation. One of the things a trial lawyer thinks about is how to get information admitted into evidence. I want to share with you the best way to get text messages between you and another party admitted into evidence. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Don’t expect to show up in court, at an eviction hearing for example, and think you will just be able to read text messages between you and the other party straight from your phone. At best, that method will simply be a way to refresh your recollection. The actual text messages would not be able to be admitted into evidence.
If you want to have a chance of getting the text messages admitted into evidence, you must make screenshots of the entire text thread. Make sure the screenshots include date and time references, and be sure to show a few lines of the message at the bottom of one screenshot at the top of the next screenshot to establish the continuity of the message thread.
Once you have all the screenshots, you can email them from your phone to an email address so they can be printed. Make sure the images are large and legible. Be prepared to show up in court with a minimum of three sets of those printed screenshots. You can then lay the evidentiary foundation showing that you, the owner of that phone, engaged in those text communications and that you saved those communications by printing them, and you can authenticate the accuracy of those screenshots. Based on that information and your testimony, those screenshots could then be admitted into evidence to set forth the information of which you want the court to be aware.
If the other party vehemently denies what is in those screenshots, you will be in a situation of having better records than they do. Without having the screenshots printed and ready to be offered into evidence, it is simply your word against theirs, and I’m sure you don’t want to have your phone taken from you and put into evidence.
I’m sharing this because I recently attended an eviction hearing, the first one I’ve had to do in a couple of years. To avoid the arguments and animosity that I expected from the tenant, I wanted the court to see the conversational history and repeated attempts to resolve the situation with the tenant. In this case, when the judge asked the tenant if the text messages as shown in the screenshots were accurate, they had to concede that they were, undercutting their complaints regarding attempts to offer the rent as well as the condition of the unit.
In those situations when you have done everything you can to avoid an eviction including, in this situation, offering money for the tenant to move out (a cash-for-keys exchange) and they decline, forcing you to do an eviction, make sure you have everything organized and ready to go. The courts are becoming more sympathetic to tenants every day. When you, as a landlord, can prove you have done everything in your power to resolve the situation, including making a very reasonable cash-for-keys offer, there is no justification for the tenant to have remained in the property without paying for more than two months.
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Jeffery S. Watson is an attorney who has had an active trial and hearing practice for more than 25 years. As a contingent fee trial lawyer, he has a unique perspective on investing and wealth protection. He has tried over 20 civil jury trials and has handled thousands of contested hearings. Jeff has changed the law in Ohio four times via litigation. His articles are also regularly featured the RE Journal. Read more of his viewpoints at WatsonInvested.com.