Len Niehoff is Professor from Practice at the University of Michigan Law School, where he teaches courses in civil procedure, ethics, evidence, First Amendment, law & theology, and media law. He writes regularly in all of these fields. He is also Of Counsel to the Honigman law firm. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What the Bird Heard

Here's an intriguing puzzle for students of evidence.

A 60-year-old South Carolina woman has been charged with abusing and neglecting her 98-year-old mother. The evidence against her includes, of all things, statements made by a parrot. Police report that the parrot was mimicking the phrase "Help me! Help me!" and then laughing. They believe the parrot is repeating the cries for help from the mother and the mocking laughter of the daughter. The ABA Journal report on the story can be found here.

There are several obvious obstacles to admitting the bird's statements into evidence. Surely one of the most significant is authentication. How do we know whose statements they really are? How do we know when they were made? How do we know that the parrot is accurately repeating what it heard?

Life, we learn once again, is strange. Even stranger than the imaginations of law professors who have to write Evidence exams.

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