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United States v. Dockins

    Brief Fact Summary. The defendant, Dockins (the “defendant”), was convicted of illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section:922(g)(1). He was also convicted of knowingly making false statements during the purchase of a firearm pursuant to 18 U.SC. Section:922(a)(6).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When there is no circumstantial evidence offered by the government to show that records come from where they are said to come from, “there [is] no basis for a reasonable jury to conclude that these documents [are] what they purported to be.”

    Facts. The defendant was convicted of illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section:922(g)(1). Also, of making knowingly false statements during the purchase of a firearm pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section:922(a)(6). In order to prove that the defendant was a convicted felon, the government sought to admit as Exhibit 5, a judgment of conviction of Carl Tyron Smith on robbery charges in Colorado. Further, the government sought to link the defendant to the conviction through a fingerprint card and police record sheet, Exhibit 5a, reflecting the arrest and conviction of Carl Smith. Testimony showed that the signature of Carl Smith on the fingerprint card was actually signed by the defendant. Additionally, another individual testified that the fingerprints on the fingerprint card were those of the defendant. The court admitted the evidence over the defendant’s objection on the grounds of authentication.
    After trial, the defendant moved for a Judgment of Acquittal Notwithstanding the Verdict or in the Alternative for a New Trial claiming that the evidence was not properly authenticated. The trial court held a hearing and found certain of the evidence was admissible while other portions were not because neither the fingerprint card nor the police record sheet was a self-authenticating document under Federal Rules of Evidence (“F.R.E.”) Rule 902. Specifically, “neither the fingerprint card nor the police record is under seal and no public officer of the Denver Police Department certified under seal that the signature is genuine; the certification on the fingerprint card is only a rubber stamp.” Nonetheless, the court found the exhibit admissible under F.R.E. Rule 901.

    Issue. Did the government introduce competent evidence of the defendant’s status as a convicted felon?
    “[W]hether the district court abused its discretion in finding that the government presented sufficient evidence at trial to support a finding that Exhibit 5a contained official Denver Police Department documents?”

    Held. It was an abuse of discretion to admit these documents. The parties agreed that the document comprising Exhibit 5a were not self-authenticating and accordingly admissibility turned on F.R.E. Rule 901. F.R.E. Rule 901 does not require conclusive proof of authenticity.
    The testimony concerning the fingerprint card was insufficient because the witness was only testifying as to what appears on the face of the document. The witness’s only knowledge came from reading the document. The witness only knew the fingerprint card originated from the Denver Police Department by reading the card. The witness’s testimony had nothing to with whether the documents actually came from the Denver Police Department.

    Only one of the parties involved was the custodian of the records and he did not testify. There was no circumstantial evidence offered by the government to show that the records came from the Denver Police Department. Accordingly, “there was no basis for a reasonable jury to conclude that these documents were what they purported to be.”


    Discussion. This case offers an interesting discussion about how documents must be authenticated before they are admissible.


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