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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. WALTER BROOKS (04/21/86)

filed: April 21, 1986.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
WALTER BROOKS, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of March 1, 1984, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, at No. 1958-1964, December Term 1982.

COUNSEL

Robert A. Hoffa, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Jane C. Greenspan, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Wickersham, Beck and Cercone, JJ.

Author: Beck

[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 396]

Appellant Walter Brooks was convicted at jury trial of robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, and criminal conspiracy. Post-verdict motions were denied, and appellant was sentenced to terms of imprisonment totaling 25 to 50 years. This is a direct appeal from the judgment of sentence.

Appellant Brooks raises three issues for our review: (1) whether, due to a lack of proper authentication, the trial court erred in admitting into evidence two Commonwealth exhibits, an envelope and a letter; (2) whether the trial court erred in denying appellant's motion for a mistrial; and (3) whether the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict.

Appellant Brooks and co-conspirator Mervin Fortune were arrested in connection with the robbery and beating of an elderly couple in their home. Fortune pleaded guilty and agreed to testify on behalf of the Commonwealth in return for a promise that the Commonwealth would notify the

[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 397]

    sentencing court of his cooperation. At Brooks's trial Fortune testified about the crime in which Fortune, Brooks, and another co-conspirator were involved. In addition, he testified that while he and Brooks were in jail they exchanged a number of letters and that one of the letters he received was threatening. The letter (Commonwealth Exhibit C-2) and the envelope in which it was delivered (Commonwealth Exhibit C-3) were admitted into evidence. Brooks challenges the admission of these exhibits.

First we note that the envelope was properly admitted. Brooks admitted by stipulation that he had addressed the envelope. Authentication of a writing is not required if the adversary has admitted its genuineness in open court or in his pleadings. Osborne v. Victor Dairies, Inc., 138 Pa. Super. 117, 123, 10 A.2d 129 (1940); McCormick, Evidence § 219 and § 262 at 630 (E. Cleary 2d Ed. 1972). Thus, the envelope was properly admitted into evidence by virtue of Brooks's stipulation that he had addressed it.

Brooks also maintains that admission of the letter into evidence was error because the letter was admitted without proper authentication. We disagree, and conclude that authentication of the letter was sufficient for admission.

Generally, two requirements must be satisfied for a document to be admissible: it must be authenticated and it must be relevant. In other words, a proponent must show that the document is what it purports to be and that it relates to an issue or issues in the truth determining process. Specific evidentiary rules have developed for authenticating writings such as letters. These rules are necessary because of the problems involved in ascertaining the authorship of documents. As one commentator notes, "[m]ost documents bear a signature, or otherwise purport on their face to be of a certain person's authorship." 7 Wigmore, Evidence § 2130 at 709 (Chadbourn rev. 1978). It would be too easy to assume that a letter bearing the signature of "X" was authored by "X". In order that such

[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 398]

    an unsupported assumption not be the foundation of authentication, the requirement for admission of a document such as a letter is a prima facie case that the document is what it purports to be.*fn1 The purpose of this rule is to provide a necessary check against fraud or mistake. Commonwealth v. Harrison, 290 Pa. Super. 389, 396, 434 A.2d 808, 812 (1981). See also United States v. Sutton, 426 F.2d 1202, 1206 (D.C.Cir.1969); McCormick, Evidence, supra, § 219 at 687.

Of course, authentication does not necessarily end the inquiry as to admissibility. Making the prima facie showing that the document is what it purports to be does not automatically lead to the conclusion that the document is relevant to an issue or issues in the case. See K. Broun, Authentication and Contents of ...


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