Documenting Text Messages for Trial or Legal Matters

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Jay Walsh

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Organized text message history for court exported and printed using Decipher Text Message.

Attorneys and clients often find themselves needing to accurately document and print text messages for court, mediation, or legal proceedings. Each year there are millions more legal cases where text messages are being used as evidence in a trial and also by lawyers for discovery.

Statista estimates estimates that in 2019, approximately 2.52 billion consumers used messaging apps to communicate. That’s a lot of messages sent via mobile devices! This includes iOS, Android, and also popular messaging apps like WhatsApp Messenger, Viber, Line, and WeChat. With text messaging and messaging apps now solidified as one of the world’s most popular forms of daily communication, the need to document and preserve text / sms messages for evidence in court has increased dramatically.

SMS, iMessage, and MMS text messages are becoming a common form of evidence in court cases and other legal disputes

No matter how you preserve text messages for evidence, you'll want to make sure that the records have all of the information necessary for them to be admissible in court. Consult a lawyer for the specifics in your region about what information is required. For most legal matters the following details should be visible in your text message documentation:

  • The date and time of the messages.
  • The real contact information for the other party or parties in the text message conversation. For SMS this is a phone number. For MMS or iMessages, this is either a phone number or an email address.

Whether you are a lawyer, law enforcement official, or simply someone who has a pending court case or legal matter, there are several solutions for saving and printing text messages so that you can preserve evidence from your mobile phone's sms message history.

Reference: "Text Messages as Court Evidence" - Lauren Gilbert, The Law Office of Natalie Gregg

iPhone

For iPhone / iPad / iTouch, we recommend using Decipher TextMessage to save and print out your text messages for court. Decipher TextMessage is already a trusted and widely used program by lawyers and law enforcement officials for preserving any messaging data in a format that will hold up in a legal environment. Features include:

Save text messages for court

Follow these steps to print and save text messages for court

  1. Backup your iPhone on a Mac or Windows computer.
  2. Open Decipher TextMessage.
  3. Choose a contact whose text messages you want to save for court.
  4. Select Export as PDF to save the text messages.
  5. Open the saved PDF and select Print to print the text messages for court, trial, or your lawyer.

All your text messages for court will be read into the software and displayed in chat bubble format with the contact and time/date stamp on each message. Here's an example of what you will see in the program:

Decipher TextMessage displays and saves text messages for court

iPhone Screenshots

Another way to print out your iPhone text messages is by taking screenshots of each text message screen on your device. To take a screenshot you press the "Home" and "Sleep/Wake" button to capture what is on your iPhone screen. Pros and cons of using the screenshot method include:

  • Screenshots are quick and easy (and free!) if you only have a few text messages.
  • One drawback of using the screenshot method is that it is time consuming. If you have lots of messages you will need to screenshot each individual screen and organize the images into a text message transcript manually.
  • If you're required to show the time on every message, you'll need to slide left on the Messages app screen to reveal each message time. It's hard to do that and press the screenshot buttons, and cuts off some of the message text.
  • If you don't have the iPhone in your possession, there is no way to use the screenshot method.

How to take screenshots on an iPhone

We also have our step-by-step instructions outlined in this helpful YouTube video which will walk you through the exact steps and directions so that you can immediately save your text messages for court or trial.

Android

There are several popular programs available for saving text messages from an Android device to your computer Some are free and some can be purchased for a fee in the Google Play Store. One popular app is SMS Backup +. The program stores texts in your Gmail account and lets you access them from any web browser.

  • The app is free so you can try it out without spending any money.
  • Printing out the text messages from any web browser is convenient and easy.
  • It requires that you have a Gmail account. If you don't, you can simply register for one and then be up and running with the application within minutes.

Android Screenshots

To take a screenshot of any Android device is fairy simple, however the commands are different depending on your specific device.

  • The first thing to try is pressing down the "sleep / wake" button and also the "volume down" button at the same time. If you see your screen "flash" then you have successfully taken a screenshot.
  • For Galaxy devices and other Android phones that have a "home" button, try holding down the home button and the power button simultaneously until you see the screen flash.
  • After taking a screenshot the image will then appear in the photo gallery app on your device. Simply look for the screenshot photo album and locate the image you just captured. You can then send, save, or share the screenshot depending on what is best for your needs.

How to take screenshots on an Android phone

Whether your device is an iPhone or an Android, we hope these tips for preserving and saving your text messages for court or a legal issue have been helpful. Remember to back up your mobile data to your computer on a regular basis so that all your important information is safe and secure.

Feature Phones

We see a few questions about documenting text messages for non-smart phones in the comments section below. Contact us our support page if you're interested in this, so we can follow up with you! Be sure to mention the specific kind of feature phone from which you want to document sms/mms messages; the techniques and details vary depending on the phone manufacturer/operating system.