United States v. Vigneau
187 F.3d 70 (1999)

  • Vigneau and his brother were arrested on suspicion of distributing drugs.
  • At trial the prosecution attempted to introduce Western Union records that allegedly showed that Vigneau had wired money in furtherance of the conspiracy to launder drug money.
    • Vigneau objected on the grounds that the records were hearsay.
    • The prosecution argued that they were an exception to hearsay because they were a business record.
      • Turns out, Western Union doesn’t verify the identity of the sender, so anyone could have sent the money and just signed Vigneau’s name.
        • The prosecution argued that whether or not the jury believed that the records were written by Vigneau was a matter of weight, not of admissibility.
  • The Trial Judge allowed the records to be admitted.
    • The Trial Judge looked to FRE 803(6) which allow a hearsay exception for business records.
  • The Trial Court found Vigneau guilty.  He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and remanded for a new trial.
    • The Appellate Court agreed that the Western Union records met the definition of a business record.
    • However, the exception does not embrace statements contained within a business record that were made by one who is not a part of the business is the statements are offered for their truth.
      • Therefore, the part supposedly written by Vigneau cannot be used to show that Vigneau sent the money.
  • The basic rule is that records taken in the normal course of business are an exception to hearsay under FRE 803(6), but only records that are produced by or verified by the business fall under the exception.
    • In this case, the person sending the money had no business duty to ensure accuracy, therefore that part of the business record doesn’t have the same reliability as the rest of the business record, and shouldn’t qualify for the same exception.
  • If the prosecution wanted to, they could have called a handwriting expert to show that Vigneau had filled out the form.  If so, it would have qualified as an admission and would have been admissible under FRE 801(d)(2).