By Alexandra Burlacu, Tech Times | June 22, 6:12 AM
A federal appeals court has just ruled that Google Earth images and other such content can be used as evidence in a trial. More specifically, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Google satellite image can serve as evidence in a trial, because it doesn't make any assertions.
It all started back in 2013, when border patrol agents arrested an immigrant close to the U.S.–Mexico border in Arizona.
The agents charged Paciano Lizarraga-Tirado, the immigrant in question, with illegally returning to the U.S. after having been deported in 2012. Lizarraga-Tirado argued at his trial that border patrol agents in fact arrested him in Mexico, as he had not crossed the border to re-enter the U.S.
The man claimed that the agents unintentionally crossed the border and actually made the arrest in Mexico – not on U.S. soil – but one of the agents who made the arrest used a handheld GPS device to record the exact coordinates of the arrest.
At Lizarraga-Tirado's trial, the government introduced the satellite image produced by Google as evidence that the arrest occurred in the U.S., not on the other side of the border as Lizarraga-Tirado alleged. After being convicted in July 2014, Lizarraga-Tirado filed an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, arguing that the satellite image illustrating the location of those coordinates should not be accepted as evidence.
Statements and assessments made out of court – such as the one made through the Google Earth image – are typically not allowed as evidence in a trial. Lizarraga-Tirado argued that the Google Earth satellite image was hearsay, simply asserting the location of the arresting officers when they were working and where they responded — not where they made the actual arrest.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled that the Google Earth satellite image can serve as evidence and does not amount to hearsay, as it doesn't involve human intervention or make an assertion.
The panel explained that in this case, it's not a person who makes the relevant assertion, it's the Google Earth program. Although typing in the GPS coordinates requires human interaction, placing the tack in the accurate location is up to Google Earth. The computer program did the "real work," not the person — and thus the Google Earth satellite image does not fall under hearsay.
The ruling further notes that the computer program puts a labeled tack on a satellite image after analyzing the GPS coordinates, without human intervention:
"Because the program makes the relevant assertion – that the tack is accurately placed at the labeled GPS coordinates – there's no statement as defined by the hearsay rule."