Recently, in United States v. Anekwu, 695 F.3d 967 (9th Cir. 2012), the Ninth Circuit addressed a question left unaddressed by the Supreme Court and never previously tackled by the Ninth Circuit: are certificates of authentication and accompanying affidavits authenticating foreign public records and foreign business records testimonial? In other words, can foreign records be authenticated without in-person witness testimony, or would using certificates of authentication and affidavits to authenticate foreign records violate a defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment?

In the District Court, defendant Henry Anekwu was convicted of mail fraud, wire fraud, and telemarketing fraud against the elderly. The evidence showed that between 1998 and 2002, Anekwu owned and operated lottery companies in Canada, which targeted elderly victims in California. Anekwu directed the telemarketers working for his companies to call victims and to falsely represent to those victims that they had won lottery money. The victims were then obliged to pay certain taxes and costs to Anekwu and his companies in order to receive the non-existent lottery winnings, with the payments mailed to various commercial mailbox addresses in Vancouver, Canada. The defendant was extradited to the United States to stand trial, and the government sought to introduce foreign business and public records against him pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3505 and Federal Rules of Evidence 803 and 902. Among the alleged errors committed in his trial, Anekwu argued that the District Court committed plain error by admitting certificates of authentication for foreign public and business records by means of affidavit in violation of the Confrontation Clause.

The Ninth Circuit previously concluded in United States v. Weiland, 420 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir. 2005) that routine certifications of domestic public records are not testimonial, but neither the Supreme Court nor the Ninth Circuit had previously addressed whether certifications of foreign public records are testimonial. If certifications of foreign public records are testimonial, then the custodians who created the certificates of authentication are witnesses subject to a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation and admitting certificates of authentication without in-person witness testimony violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to confront witnesses against him.

The Supreme Court had previously held that, to rank as testimonial, a statement must have a primary purpose of establishing or proving past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution. Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 131 S.Ct. 2705, 2714 n.6 (2011) (discussed previously in this space). Furthermore, as the Court held in Bullcoming and in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009) (discussed previously in this space), a document created solely for an evidentiary purpose is testimonial. Building on this Supreme Court precedent, in Anekwu, the Ninth Circuit held that the certificates of authentication in question certify only that the documents are true copies and that the person so certifying is the custodian of the document. Because the certificates of authentication do not interpret the content of the related business and public records or certify their substance or effect, the appeals court held that the certificates do not create a record for the sole purpose of providing evidence against a defendant. Accordingly, since the purpose of the certificates was merely to authenticate the foreign public and business records, and not to establish or prove some fact at trial, the Ninth Circuit held that the admission of the certificates was not plain error.

As the marketplace becomes increasingly global, and cross-border criminal activity more prevalent, it is highly likely that more and more white-collar criminal schemes will generate the need for evidence from multiple countries, increasing the frequency of the government’s reliance on foreign certificates of authenticity, and heightening the importance of this Ninth Circuit ruling.