The Admissibility of Text Messages in Michigan Criminal Cases

March 14, 2014
by The Law Office of Steven L. Schwartz

Mobile Phone in Hand

Texting has quickly become one of the most popular and ubiquitous means of communication in today’s society. Rather than pick up the phone to call someone, people of all ages have turned to texting as a quick, easy alternative to a phone call. However, with the prevalence of texting increasing over the past few years, Michigan courts have been presented with an interesting issue in how to deal with the admissibility of text messages in criminal trials.

The Confrontation Clause Issue

The Confrontation Clause to the United States Constitution requires that anyone who is charged with a crime has the ability to confront those who accuse them. Generally, this means that the accused can call any witness who is testifying against them, and can ask them questions to test their knowledge, reputation for honesty, etc.

However, the Confrontation Clause only applies to “testimonial” evidence. What constitutes testimonial evidence is a debate in and of itself. The general consensus it that testimonial evidence is the kind of evidence that, when originated, it was made with the intent of being used in a criminal trial. For example, doctor’s notes about a victim’s condition are generally not testimonial because the notes are not primarily used in a criminal trial, but for the medical treatment of the victim. On the other hand, what a witness tells a police officer in the course of an investigation may be considered testimonial.

Text messages can fall on anywhere on the spectrum of testimonial evidence. In a recent case in the Michigan Court of Appeals, the court determined that the specific text messages at issue were, in fact, testimonial (the text messages dealt with the crime, and the defendant’s specific plans on how to commit the crime and how to cover it up). The Court held that these text messages were not testimonial, and therefore did not have the protections of the Confrontation Clause.

The Court explained that the messages were not made with the anticipation that they would be used at trial. Obviously, if the defendant knew that they could possibly be used at a criminal trial, he would not have sent them in the first place. The text messages came into evidence and the defendant’s sentence was affirmed.

Other Issues With the Admissibility of Text Messages

Another thing to keep in mind is that, even testimonial evidence can come in under certain circumstances. For example, the court in the case above noted that, even if the text messages were testimonial, because they were being introduced against the person who made them, and the statements were against his penal interest at the time he made them, the statements could come into evidence anyway (not to mention, if the statements were being introduced against him, there would be no denial of a right to confront himself). This is an exception to the general rule that bars testimonial evidence.

Are You Facing Michigan Criminal Charges?

If you have recently been charged with a Michigan criminal offense, you should secure the assistance of an experience Michigan criminal defense attorney immediately. As you can see from the above discussion, the rules of evidence can be confusing for a defendant and are best handled by a licensed attorney. To speak with an attorney about the facts of your case, click here, or call (248) 930-5019.

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