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About Writing Right: The Blog


I've heard people ask recently if a personal diary can be used as evidence in a court proceeding? Well, guess what. It can! And, if the opportunity presents itself, it will! Although people keep diaries and journals for various reasons, nearly all authors intend for them to remain private. That, after all, is the allure to "telling all." If no one but the owner ever reads it, the owner has no handicap on what he or she may choose to commit to writing. That's not the case in writing a blog, for example, where everything you commit to "paper" can eventually be read by someone else--and possibly many someone "elses."


But a diary is sacrosanct. Or, at least, so most people think. In truth, a diary or anything else you write for that matter can be used as evidence in a court of law. That doesn't mean it will be, and it doesn't mean that anyone can call upon you for any reason to deliver your diary as evidence in a trial. The diary must be relative to the case, and its entrance as evidence has to be approved by both attorneys and/or the judge. It must also have been obtained legally, meaning that your rights weren't violated through illegal search and seizure.


On a somewhat more positive note, even if what you've written in your diary is admitted as evidence in court, your entire diary won't be. Only those passages that pertain to the case at hand will be allowed in and made part of the public record. Still, it's sobering to realize that at least three other readers will be reviewing your complete diary in order to determine what parts of it are pertinent to the case and what aren't. And, that's most likely three total strangers more than you had ever anticipated would be reading your most intimate thoughts.


While all this might sound like one giant downer, the law regarding the admissibility of diaries and similar evidence in court actually has its upside, since a diary can also be used as evidence of innocence by the defense. As attorney Peter M. Liss explains on his Website, Vista Criminal Law, "While a journal entry describing how a wife wanted her husband dead may be used by the prosecution to help show a homicide was first degree murder, an entry about a steamy, romantic sexual encounter by someone who later claims they were raped could help the defendant's attorney fight the charges."


Liss goes on to say that, should anyone have any questions about the advisability or legality of using a diary as a defense for charges filed against him, he should contact an attorney to see whether or not the document would prove helpful and should be subpoenaed as evidence.


That sounds like some pretty sound advice that you should heed. In the meantime ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can also check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack. It's free, it's entertaining, it's informative, and it runs weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!) 

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