Carl Smith Jr. was convicted of residential burglary and sentenced to 6 ½ years’

imprisonment. The conviction arises from the crime victim arriving home to find a door that

did not open properly, and who subsequently found dozens of missing hydrocodone pills,

removed jewelry, and that an apartment window had been broken.

At the trial court, Mr. Smith moved to exclude iPhone video evidence which re-recorded

surveillance video. Mr. Smith argued the videos were not admissible pursuant to the Illinois

Rule of Evidence 1003 and 1004, or alternatively that they are barred by the common law

best evidence rule. In short, Mr. Smith contended that the duplicate video did not meet the

requirements to overcome the preference that the original be admitted. After hearings on

the topic, the Jackson County judge denied the motion to bar admission. Mr. Smith was

convicted after a jury trial. On appeal, the Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed that the

iPhone video footage of the video surveillance system was properly admitted into evidence.

The first question in front of the Illinois Supreme Court was whether the video clips of

surveillance footage re-recorded on an iPhone are admissible pursuant to Illinois Rule of

Evidence 1003 or 1004, or barred by the best evidence rule. The second question the Court

answers is whether Mr. Smith forfeited arguing that the video clips lacked sufficient

foundation to be admissible at trial. The questions about admissibility are reviewed de novo

and the trial court’s decisions are reviewed for abuse of discretion.

In the Supreme Court, Mr. Smith argued the iPhone video clips are inadmissible, as they

are not the originals of the evidence. The Court broke down the rule through multiple layers.

First, it defined the terms “writing and recordings” to include “photographing,” which also

includes “video tapes.” Therefore, the Court reasoned that the clips were considered

“writings and recordings,” as defined in Illinois Rule of Evidence 1001, which is in turn

applicable to the other rules. Further, the Court reasons the iPhone video is a duplicate due

to the “electronic re-recording.” With these definitions, the Rules 1003 and 1004 analysis

then come into consideration. A duplicate is generally admissible to the same extent as the

original, unless there is a “genuine question about the original’s authenticity, or if there are

other reasons that make it unfair to admit the duplicate rather than the original. Rule 1004

also allows the duplicate to be admissible if the originals are lost or destroyed, unless the

originals were destroyed in bad faith.

The Illinois Supreme Court cites the plain language of the rules and specific circumstances

in the case at bar, to determine that the iPhone video clips are considered duplicates as

defined by Illinois Rule of Evidence 1001(4). With that definition, it is then, the Court holds, admissible under Rule 1003.

The Illinois Supreme Court declined to require that the duplicate provide the entirety of the original recording. The Court also rejected the Defendant’s argument that not showing the entire video was unfair, reasoning that there is no no-speculative reason to state that the full recording would have contained relevant evidence. As such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that video clips recorded on an iPhone, of a video

surveillance recording, is admissible evidence. As to the second question, Mr. Smith

abandoned the foundation argument by not raising it on appeal.

Author: Jake A. Leahy