Going to Court

How to use evidence from your phone

If you want to use text messages, videos or other information on your phone to prove your case in court, you need to prepare ahead of time. Learn how to gather evidence from your phone and get it ready for court.

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What is evidence?

Evidence is anything used to prove your case. It could be a police report, a medical report or a story from a witness.

It also could be information on your phone, such as:

  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • Call history
  • Voicemails
  • Contacts
  • Social media
  • Location data

For example, if you are trying to prove that someone stalked you, you may want to use threatening or harassing messages the person sent you as evidence that they made you fear physical harm or experience mental distress.

But you can’t just come to court and show the judge your phone. You need to prepare your evidence before you come to court.

Expect questions from the court.

Not all evidence will be "admissible" or accepted by the court. You must prove to a judge why it matters and that it is genuine and authentic. 

Prepare to answer questions, such as: 

  • Who is involved? For example, prove who sent the message. 
  • What happened? Prove that the message is real and not spoofed.
  • When did it happen? Verify the time and date the message was sent.
  • Where did it happen? Identify the app or platform used to send the message.
  • How can you prove it's real? Give information that backs up what you say.

Ohio has Rules of Evidence that everyone must follow, and courts generally have their own local rules too. Learn about the rules and follow them to make it more likely your evidence will be accepted in court. Learn more about evidence in Ohio.

Gather your evidence.

Collecting evidence from phones can be complicated. If possible, find a lawyer to help you.

If you’re gathering evidence for a protection order case, contact an advocate for safety planning if gathering evidence could put you at risk.

The way to pull information from your phone depends on the device you have, but in general:

  • Take screenshots or photos. Open the information you want to use as evidence and take pictures of it. Search “how to take a screenshot” plus the name of your phone for help understanding how to do this. On some phones, holding down the power and volume buttons will take a screenshot. 
    • Beware: some apps may notify the sender if you take a screenshot, so instead, you may want to take a regular photo of your screen using a different device. You may need to hold a camera close to your phone to get all the information.
  • Find and include metadata. You will need to provide metadata, or information about the data you want to use, like the time and date a message was sent. Getting metadata can be difficult. Search "metadata" plus the name of your app, platform or device to find out what metadata is available and if you can export it. If you can't export the information, take screenshots of it. It may take several screenshots of multiple different screens to capture all the information you need. For example:
    • Text messages: The sender's identity, number and contact information, and the time and date the message was sent. 
    • Emails: The full email "header," details about the sender's identity, IP address, and the date and time the email was sent.
    • Phone calls or voicemails: The time and date of the call, how long it lasted, the caller's number and the recipient's number.
    • Social media, DMs or other apps: The location, content, time and date.
  • Put the pictures in a file. Once you have photos or screenshots of all the information you want to use as evidence, find where they are saved (like in your photos), and put them into a file using a program that lets you paste images. For example, copy and paste them into a Word document. Your local public library may have a computer or technology help you can use.
  • Be sure each message or image is labeled with the time and date. This may be included in the screenshot itself, or you may have to write the time and date of the message under each screenshot within the file.

Organize and print your evidence.

Organizing your evidence can help you tell your story to the court. In general:

  • Order it by date. Arrange your evidence in chronological order (oldest to newest) to help tell the whole story.
  • Print your files. Your local library may have a printer and computer you can use. Some courts or law libraries also have printers available for public use for free or a small fee. When you print your files, make sure everything is as clear as possible. Label the files according to the court’s rules.
  • Make extra copies. You usually need at least 3 copies of everything you plan to present as evidence – one for the court, one for the other side and one for yourself. Keep your copies somewhere you know you will have access to them.
  • Ask about video or audio recordings. If you have a video or other recording you want to use as evidence, ask the court if you will be able to play it in the courtroom. Also ask what format it needs to be in. If your file isn’t in the right format, search for a free video format converter to change it into a format that can be played in court. If you can’t play a video or recording in court, find out if you can provide a transcript, or a text version that says everything that happened in the video, including who said what and when. 

Make sure it’s complete and truthful.

It’s important to make sure anything you introduce as evidence in court is accurate and complete.

  • Tell the whole story. You want to show context to prove your case. That can mean showing an entire conversation, not just the threatening or harassing messages. Provide details to help tell the complete story. You may need to take multiple screenshots or photos to show whole conversations.
  • Don’t give false or made-up information. If you don’t know when something happened, don’t make it up. Providing false or wrong information could make you lose your case or get in trouble with the court.

Keep copies of your evidence safe.

When you present evidence in court, the court will need to be able to take a physical copy of that evidence for review and make it part of the court record.

Keep your evidence in a safe place where you can access it, but the other person can’t. Protect yourself if you need to change passwords, update your security settings, or have a friend help you. Keep in mind that the friend may need to testify in court later.

Prepare for court.

Court staff cannot give you legal advice or help you present your case. But they usually can explain general court procedures and direct you to court rules. For example:

  • You may not be able to use your phone in court. You are not allowed to record anything in the courtroom, and many courts do not allow the use of phones at all. Your phone may need to be turned off the whole time you are in court.
  • The court may not accept all types of files. Ask what kind of files the court will accept. You may need to provide paper copies that are formatted in a specific way. If you want to provide a USB flash drive or other storage device, first ask the court if it will accept it. Follow the court’s rules. Keep in mind that you likely won’t get your files back, because the court will need to keep them in your case file.
  • Ask if the court has equipment you can use. Some courts have equipment that can be used to present electronic evidence. Ask the court ahead of time about any equipment that may be available and how you could use it.

In the courtroom, be prepared to:

  • Explain your evidence. Practice explaining how you prepared the information, what it is and what it shows.
  • Testify. You or witnesses may need to testify about the evidence you are presenting to the court. Testimony may be used to “authenticate” or show that the evidence is real, not fake.
  • Handle objections. The other side can challenge or object to what you want to use as evidence. The judge can decide whether or not to allow it.

Learn more about getting ready for a hearing.

This project was supported by Grant Nos. 2022-WF-VA1-8855 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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