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 statistics predicts that, in 2019 approximately 2.18 billion consumers will be using mobile messaging apps. 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:

Specific Steps - Follow these steps to print and save text messages for court

  1. Plug your iPhone into a Mac or Windows computer.

  2. Launch iTunes, select the device, and click Back Up Now.

  3. Open Decipher TextMessage and choose a contact whose text messages you want to save.

  4. Select Export as PDF to save the text messages.

  5. Open the document on your computer and choose Print to print out the text messages for court, trial, or your lawyer.

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

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 on a regular basis so that all your important information is safe and secure. Also, when gathering text message documentation as evidence, consult with a lawyer in your local area if you have any questions or concerns.

Feature Phones

We see a few questions about documenting text messages for non-smart phones in the comments section. 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.


40 Comments



  • James Campbell September 9, 2019

    Decipher Text Message shows photo attachments, for iPhone. Wish the same program was written for Android. My issue with SMS backup for Android, are the commentary regarding "bugs" and no real information for, whether or not, it shows photo attachments ... like Decipher Text Message does for iPhone. The photos are integral to my court case, with hundreds sent, and literally thousands of text messages. SO NO, screenshotting them ALL is not desirable.

  • Sasha hedges

    Sasha hedges September 9, 2019

    I want to be able to print a whole thread of conversation had on Messenger on my IPad. How do I do this other than screenshot each section and then print all off individually? I need the info for court evidence etc.

    • Decipher Tools Software

      Decipher Tools Software September 9, 2019

      Hi Sasha, Decipher TextMessage lets you save and print your iPhone text messages. It does not interact with Facebook Messenger. If you have text messages on your iPhone or iPad then the software will be helpful. ;-)

  • Martha L. September 9, 2019

    Can this program retrieve texts from 18 months ago? It would be a thread between me and another phone number. But I got a new phone about 6 months ago (same number/apple ID). My question is are the retrieved messages only from the current device? Or from the life of the phone number account?

    • Kelly HW

      Kelly HW September 9, 2019

      Hi Martha,

      Thanks for the great question. For most people, older messages will be available in a backup of their current device because of a few different reasons:

      1) You set up your new phone from an iCloud backup of the old iPhone.
      2) You set up your new phone from an iTunes backup of the old iPhone.
      3) You use Messages on iCloud to sync the history between iPhones/Macs.

      I would recommend scrolling up in the conversation you have on your phone to see if the older messages are available before you make the new backup of your current iPhone. To scroll much faster through the conversation history, open the Messages app to your conversation, then tap the status bar repeatedly (the bar at the top of the screen showing clock, battery, wifi etc) which will "jump" scroll up each time you tap it.

    • 3dsoul27

      3dsoul27 October 10, 2019

      Hello Martha. Maybe late but I recently had a similar problem. Then I realized that the texts could be backed up on the cloud (I got the idea from a science fiction show, go figure). So anyway I called Samsung and sure enough, we got into my cloud account and there were 29,453 text messages going back deep into 2018. She showed me how to restore it and now I have all those text messages back on my phone. It took about 15 minutes and I was worried it was frozen. But eventually it finished. maybe you can try that.

  • Slavi Traykov

    Slavi Traykov June 6, 2019

    Hi, does this program let's you export a Viber conversation?
    Thanks

    • Kelly HW

      Kelly HW July 7, 2019

      Hi Slavi,

      Thank you for the comment. Decipher TextMessage does not export Viber conversations, but it is a good feature that we should explore for our Decipher Chat software. If you're still interested in this, can you send us an email via our support page https://deciphertools.com/s... - that way we can find out what operating system you're on, and see if we're able to get the feature added within your necessary timeframe.

  • Kris TEN Gunsch

    Kris TEN Gunsch June 6, 2019

    Getting frustrated by how many of these "helpful" blogs and youtube vids fail to mention that it's going to cost you $20 - $30 to gain the access needed in these software downloads in order to print one string of text messages. So annoyed.

    • Decipher Tools Software

      Decipher Tools Software June 6, 2019

      HI Kris, thanks for leaving a comment. The free trial of Decipher TextMessage will let you see, save, and print a few messages from each contact and give you a good feel if the program is right for your needs. If you want to save or print all your messages from a contact you would indeed need to upgrade to the paid version of Decipher TextMessage. If you have any other questions just drop us a note via our support page and we'll be happy to reply! ;-) https://deciphertools.com/s...

  • Soul Parent February 2, 2019

    hi you guys - I cannot believe I screenshot two years of texts before I found this software. ugh. though i can't seem to get the SMS messages to print out with the photos in place like the example in this thread. is there a setting I'm missing? thank you!

    • Kelly HW

      Kelly HW February 2, 2019

      Hi Soul Parent!

      Are the photos showing up within the Decipher TextMessage program itself? It may help to troubleshoot this via email - can you contact us through our web form here? https://deciphertools.com/s...

  • Lisa Spatafora December 12, 2018

    How can I save group messages from an S9 for court?

    • Decipher Tools Software

      Decipher Tools Software December 12, 2018

      For a Samsung phone you might want to check out the SMS Backup + recommendation that we mention in the blog. Hopefully that might help!

  • Christina Baker June 6, 2018

    I want to download the text messages between my client and a third party as opposed to having screenshots. However, when I try to use this software it is asking me to use my iCloud and I do not want my client's phone added to my iCloud. Is there a different way to go about this?

    • Decipher Tools Software

      Decipher Tools Software June 6, 2018

      Hi Christina, Decipher TextMessage never requires that you use iCloud. To use the software you only need to make a local iTunes backup of your iPhone on your computer. If you have any further questions, just contact us via our support page and we'll be happy to help! ;-)

      • Christina Baker June 6, 2018

        I also do not want to connect it to my iTunes. Do I need to do that? It is not my phone.

        • Decipher Tools Software

          Decipher Tools Software June 6, 2018

          iTunes is required. You would need to make a one time backup of the device on a computer.

  • Melissa Miller-Perez

    Melissa Miller-Perez December 12, 2017

    can select messages from a contact be selected to print, or does the entire message thread have to be printed and exported?

    • Decipher Tools Software

      Decipher Tools Software December 12, 2017

      You can do either. You can export the entire message thread for that contact or if you want to narrow it down, you can choose the "export by date" option which lets narrow down the export of messages to just one day if you prefer. ;-)

  • Heather Mitchell

    Heather Mitchell November 11, 2017

    so this is a one time purchase, but i can use it repeatedly? I mean, sure I can grab all the mesages from the past... but how about once a new thread is started? can i also grab those each week/month etc? thanks

    • Kelly HW

      Kelly HW November 11, 2017

      Hi Heather,

      As you run Decipher TextMessage later and it reads new information for the same iPhone from new backups, it will append those new messages to a running history for the device. I hope that answers your question!

      • C'est Moi

        C'est Moi November 11, 2017

        excellent... can the data be modified, such as font size? I have a couple years of texts that I want documented and i'd like to know if i can copy/past the content into word and divide with 3-4 columns to take less paper. Is this possible?

        • Kelly HW

          Kelly HW November 11, 2017

          Hi C'est - you can definitely adjust the font size within DTM, or export the conversation and adjust the zoom level in the print settings! For the columns... send us an email: https://deciphertools.com/s... I am actually adding a 2-column option (and we can discuss 3 columns) for the next update and we can send you a version to preview.

  • Tony September 9, 2017

    What if I back up my iPhone on my iCloud account. Can Decipher recover texts from an iCloud back-up?

    • Kelly HW

      Kelly HW September 9, 2017

      We're working on support for reading messages from iCloud backups, but Decipher TextMessage currently doesn't support it. However, you can back up your iPhone in iTunes manually and it won't affect your iCloud backup settings. https://deciphertools.com/s...

  • Divinus Luciferase September 9, 2017

    The device I want to print messages from aren't on the list. How do I add my iPhone 6S Plus?

    • Decipher Tools Software

      Decipher Tools Software September 9, 2017

      We replied to your email with help. You would need to back up your iPhone as we recommend in our FAQ. ;-)

  • b gaylord

    b gaylord July 7, 2017

    Hi, I have a flip phone and need to print out text messages for a possible court case.

  • Tania

    Tania July 7, 2017

    What about large Facebook messenger app discussions? Can we save those including pictures and timestamps?

    • Kelly HW

      Kelly HW July 7, 2017

      I am looking into this Tania! If you want to send us an email so we can followup with you if we have something to test, you can do so here: https://deciphertools.com/s... Or I will try to remember to comment here also. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Bradley L. Hamilton

    Bradley L. Hamilton June 6, 2017

    These methods are not court-admissible or otherwise forensically sound.

    • Decipher Tools Software

      Decipher Tools Software June 6, 2017

      Hi Bradley, we've had many users of Decipher TextMessage write us after their court appearances expressing gratitude since the messages they exported and printed with the software were admissible for their case. However, it's definitely up to the specific court and states as to what documentation is acceptable or not. Usually someone's lawyer can give them more detailed guidance on that front regarding their state or county. One feature of the software that many users seem to appreciate for court related matters is the Decipher TextMessage preference that displays the contact info on every single text message, sent and received. This is a feature which many lawyers ask their clients for and one that is not offered by the iPhone messages app itself.

  • briana May 5, 2017

    hey all so how do I print off my message records? I have walmart mobile and they only show the numbers not the full text messages

    • Kelly HW

      Kelly HW May 5, 2017

      Hi Briana,

      What kind of phone do you have (Android, iPhone, Feature/Flip phone)? Printing the text messages is different for all of the different kind of devices, and I know Walmart has a few different plans including bring your own device. :) Let us know and we'll try to help as best we can.

  • Summer Beshore April 4, 2017

    Every app I use for this purpose, including SMS backup, only allows you to see texts received...my responses don't show up. I need the whole conversation - Can anyone help?

  • Ronni

    Ronni September 9, 2016

    What about non-smart phones?

    • ultracalicokittycat October 10, 2016

      right! that's what I'm wondering.....

    • bobby slay

      bobby slay January 1, 2017

      Get on your horse and go to UPS and send a fax. LMFAO Cmon man....

    • Libby

      Libby July 7, 2017

      you will have to take a photo of the message and then put it on your computer.