Are Digital Legal Document Admissible in Court?
One concern for businesses when they consider converting the paper documents to digital ones is if they are admissible in court.
If they are admissible in court then calling up the local document scanning company doesn’t make sense.
Many of the documents that are saved are for operational purposes. But an even large volume is saved is for legal reasons. This may be obvious ones like contracts but it is also all of the backup required for legal filings.
So can all the documents be digitized or do you have to have a paper copy on hand for legal reasons?
Applicable Laws and Rules for Digital Legal Documents
Unfortunately there isn’t a uniform answer throughout the United States. There are two major laws that cover the requirements for documents in court.
They came about with the advent of microfilm and photocopies but are also applied to digital records.
The first law is the Uniform Photographic Copies of Business and Public Records as Evidence Act. It says that documents made by any “process which accurately reproduces or forms a durable medium for reproducing the original . . . is as admissible in evidence as the original itself.”
This covers both microfilm technologies, photocopies, and digital images.
The second rule that applies to digital records is The Uniform Rules of Evidence. It has been adopted by the United States federal courts along with most state courts.
This allows duplicate records to be admissible “to the sames extent as the original.” The rule stipulates that the copy “accurately reproduces the original.” Since a digital image is just a picture it would qualify.
A curious twist is from the requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation 17 CFR 240.17a-4(f). It mandates that “the electronic storage media must: preserve the records exclusively in a non-rewriteable, non-erasable format.” It is the only requirement for a medium that must be used for the storage of digital records.
This can make the use of cloud storage solutions for records that are being saved for SEC requirements to be problematic.
Should I store Legal Documents or Scan Them?
So after the conversion is there any requirement to save the paper records or can you reduce your records storage requirements?
The answer is yes. Once you have digitized your records you can shred all the paper.
The one thing that must be said is to keep a backup of all your documents. Make sure one version is kept in an offsite location.
Keeping that in another part of the country is an even better idea. The one requirement would be to make sure you have adequate security on any servers where the documents are stored.
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