Diaries and journals can be written for all number of reasons, but one thing most of these writers have in common is the expectation that their private thoughts and observations will be kept private. Unfortunately, the US legal system doesn’t hold diaries as a protected source of speech that can’t be used against their writer later on. So if you are accused of a crime your might diary be used as evidence against you in court, depending on your specific situation and on your criminal defense attorney.
When Can a Diary be Used as Evidence?
First, it’s important to recognize that while your diary could be used in a criminal investigation, just because you keep a journal doesn’t always mean it can be used as evidence in court. If your rights were violated when it was obtained, for example, if it was discovered through illegal search and seizure methods, it will be inadmissible in court.
So Are Diaries Admissible?
Assuming the search and seizure was legal, in order for a journal to be used as evidence, the prosecutor must be able to show that the contents are relevant to the case. On the down side, this means the judge, prosecutor and your defense lawyer will all have to read your private writings in order to debate whether or not they are relevant to the proceedings. While this still won’t make them open to the public record, if you are a person who never wanted anyone to read your innermost thoughts, you will have to cope with having them read by at least these people.
Usually Your Whole Journal Won’t be Admissible
The upside is that even if your writings are admitted as evidence, generally your whole diary will not be considered relevant, so only the entries related to the specific case will be made available in the trial. The contents of the rest of the diary can impact how public the documents are made.
In cases where there are many private details about the writer’s life, the court will generally be more sensitive about keeping the contents private. On the other hand, if you’re keeping a sleep or food journal, you should likely count on just about all the entries being entered as evidence.
Can a Diary be Used as Evidence on Your Behalf?
Next, it’s worth noting that it isn’t only the diary of someone accused of a crime that can be used in a trial. In fact, diary entries could also be used as evidence on behalf of the defense. For example, while a journal entry describing how a wife wanted her husband dead may be used by the prosecution to help show a homicide was first degree murder, an entry about a steamy, romantic sexual encounter by someone who later claims they were raped could help the defendant’s attorney fight the charges.
Obviously, most people won’t want their diary to be used against them in court, but you can have your lawyer ensure a relevant document is subpoenaed if there is sufficient proof that it could help your case.
If you have any questions about how your diary or someone else’s journal may be used in criminal proceedings under the law, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with criminal defense lawyer Peter M. Liss.
Creative Commons Image by Fredrik Rubensson