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United States v. Vayner - 769 F.3d 125 (2d Cir. 2014)

Rule:

Fed. R. Evid. 901 does not definitively establish the nature or quantum of proof that is required preliminarily to authenticate an item of evidence. The type and quantum of evidence required is related to the purpose for which the evidence is offered and depends upon a context-specific determination whether the proof advanced is sufficient to support a finding that the item in question is what its proponent claims it to be. The bar for authentication of evidence is not particularly high.

Facts:

Aliaksandr Zhyltsou was convicted after trial on a single count of the unlawful transfer of a false identification document. At trial, the government's principal evidence against Zhyltsou was the testimony of Vladyslav Timku, a Ukrainian citizen residing in Brooklyn who testified pursuant to a cooperation agreement and who had earlier pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and impersonating a diplomat. In Defendant-Appellant Aliaksandr Zhyltsou's criminal trial on a single charge of transfer of a false identification document, the government offered into evidence a printed copy of a web page, which it claimed was Zhyltsou's profile page from a Russian social networking site akin to Facebook. The district court admitted the printout over Zhyltsou's objection that the page had not been properly authenticated under Rule 901 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. 

Issue:

Did the district court abuse its discretion in admitting the web page evidence without proper authentication under Fed. R. Evid. 901?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

Conviction was vacated. Where the Government, during defendant's criminal trial on a single charge of transfer of a false identification document, offered into evidence a printed copy of a web page, which it claimed was defendant's profile page from a Russian social networking site, it was an abuse of discretion to admit the web page evidence because the district court did so without proper authentication under Fed. R. Evid. 901. Thus, the Government did not provide a sufficient basis on which to conclude that the proffered printout was what the Government claimed it to be, defendant's profile page. The court held that this error was not harmless because it was vital to the Government's case to prove that it was in fact defendant who used a particular email address to send a fake birth certificate, and the prosecution's case on this point was far from overwhelming.

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