Saturday, June 19, 2010

MySpace Photo and Internet Gang Roster Evidence Improperly Admitted -- Authenticating Internet Photos

"People v. Beckley, Case No. B212529 (Cal. Ct. App. June 9, 2010) Two defendants were convicted of a gang-related homicide in this case.

MySpace Photos: The girlfriend of one of the defendants offered an alibi that one of the defendants was babysitting her child at the time of the shooting. She also testified that the defendant ceased gang involvement (at her request) after the two became involved. In order to rebut the gang affiliation testimony, the prosecution offered a photograph of the girlfriend flashing a gang sign - the photograph was downloaded from the MySpace page of one of the defendants. The prosecution relied on the testimony of the detective who downloaded the photograph.

The court of appeals held that admission of the photograph was error (unfortunately for the defendants, the court held that this error was harmless). The court noted that there are two methods for authenticating a photograph: (1) testimony of a person who was present when the photograph was taken and (2) expert testimony that the photograph is not "a composite and had not been faked," along with foundational testimony. Here, neither method of authentication was used. The court urged particular caution when it came to digital photos and photos found on the internet:"

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