Law School Case Brief
United States v. Smith - 566 F.3d 410 (4th Cir. 2009)
As the language of Fed. R. Evid. 1002 states, the rule applies to the circumstance where a proponent seeks to prove the content of a document. The rule exists to afford guarantees against inaccuracies and fraud by requiring that the original of the document be offered, subject to exceptions in Fed. R. Evid. 1003, which allows the use of duplicates, and Fed. R. Evid. 1004, which provides exceptions to the requirement of an original. It is more accurate to refer to Rule 1002 as the original document rule, not the "best evidence" rule. The rule requires not, as its common name implies, the best evidence in every case but rather the production of an original document instead of a copy.
Defendant Cordell Smith was charged with drug trafficking and firearms offenses. During the trial in federal district court, in order to prove the interstate nexus element of the felon-in-possession count, the government presented the testimony of Special Agent Andrew Cheramie of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that the firearms recovered from Smith's apartment had been manufactured in states other than North Carolina. Special Agent Cheramie consulted books and computer databases in reaching his conclusion. Smith's attorney objected on the ground that the proposed testimony violated the "best evidence rule." The district court overruled the objection. On appeal, Smith contended that the district court erroneously allowed Special Agent Cheramie's testimony in that the materials on which he relied were clearly "writings" or "recordings" under F.R.E. 1001 and therefore Cheramie's testimony plainly sought to prove the content of writings or recordings, because he had no independent, first-hand knowledge of where the firearms were manufactured, in violation of F.R.E. 1002. Therefore, Smith argued that his felon-in-possession conviction should be vacated.
Was the allowance of the testimony of Special Agent Cheramie, an expert in the analysis of the location of where firearms were manufactured, a violation of the best evidence rule?
The appellate court held that the government never sought to prove the content of any writing or recording relating to the firearms or their places of manufacture. It sought only to prove the fact that the firearms were manufactured in states other than North Carolina, where they were recovered during the search of Smith's apartment. The place of the firearms' manufacture was a fact existing independently of the content of any book, document, recording, or writing. Just because Special Agent Cheramie consulted books and computer databases in reaching his conclusion about the firearms' place of manufacture did not mean that his testimony was offered to prove the content of the books and computer files. The court affirmed the decision of the district court in overruling Smith's objection to Special Agent Cheramie's testimony.
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