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United States v. Chavez, 976 F.3d 1178 (10th Cir. Sept. 30, 2020)

Sep 30, 2020

In this criminal appeal, the Tenth Circuit addressed whether the “best evidence rule,” codified as Fed. R. Evid. 1002, applied to the introduction of questionably translated English-language transcripts of Spanish-language conversations recorded during a controlled drug buy. At trial, the prosecution introduced excerpts of the translated transcripts into evidence, but failed to introduce the underlying recordings upon which the transcripts were based. On appeal from the subsequent conviction, a majority of the appellate panel reversed and remanded, concluding the failure to introduce the recordings in their original language violated the best evidence rule and prejudiced the defense. In dissent, Judge Hartz argued requiring litigants to introduce foreign-language recordings along with unchallenged English-language translations is pointless, since jurors are unlikely to understand the recordings.