The New York Court of Appeals (“NYCOA”) unanimously reinstated two felony charges against a former Queens high school volleyball coach who sexted with a female athlete. The appeal centered on the authenticity of text messages obtained by a third party, the girl’s then-boyfriend. Luis Rodriguez, a former coach at Richmond Hill High School, was accused of sending inappropriate videos and photos to a 15-year-old girl for a one-month period during which they communicated nearly 250 times via text messages and phone calls.
The sext messages came to light when her boyfriend observed the images on her phone. He took screenshots and forwarded them to the girl’s mother and himself. The girl deleted all of the messages and reset her phone. However, the boyfriend showed the screenshots to police.
At trial, the Supreme Court admitted five of the screenshots into evidence, based on the girl’s testimony that they were accurate copies of messages she received from Rodriguez. He was convicted of the felonies of attempted use of a child in a sexual performance and first-degree disseminating indecent material to a minor, and a misdemeanor of endangering the welfare of a child. He was sentenced to two to six years in prison. The New York Appellate Division, Second Department (“AD”) reversed the conviction, ruling the screenshots were improperly admitted.
Arguments heard by the NYCOA centered on whether screenshots of the text messages seized by the boyfriend could serve as an original document. Arguments from Rodriguez’s lawyer hinged on authenticity issues and the best-evidence rule, a legal principle that holds an original of a document as superior evidence. The Queens Assistant District Attorney argued that the trial court had the discretion to admit the screenshots into evidence once the victim identified the text messages and explained that they accurately reflected the exchanges with Rodriguez. The NYCOA determined the testimony of the girl, who said the screenshots entered into evidence by the prosecution, accurately represented what she had received from the coach, and was sufficient to authenticate the screenshots as genuine.