Rule 903 – Subscribing Witness’s Testimony

A subscribing witness’s testimony is necessary to authenticate a writing only if required by the law of the jurisdiction that governs its validity.

Summary and Explanation

Federal Rule of Evidence 903 addresses the authentication of evidence by certification. Here’s a summary and explanation:

  1. Authentication by Certification: Rule 903 allows documents, writings, and other items to be authenticated through certification rather than requiring live testimony or extrinsic evidence.
  2. Types of Certification: The rule specifies that authentication by certification can be done through:
    • A certificate signed by a witness who has personal knowledge of the authenticity of the item.
    • A certificate signed by a public officer who has a legal duty to keep records and the certificate states that the item is a correct copy of an official record.
  3. Acceptance as Authentic: Once properly certified, the evidence is generally accepted as authentic and admissible in court without the need for further authentication.
  4. Challenging the Certification: The opposing party may challenge the authenticity of the certification or the underlying document. This can be done through cross-examination or by presenting evidence to dispute the certification’s accuracy.
  5. Judge’s Role: The judge has the authority to determine the sufficiency of the certification and whether the evidence should be admitted.

Rule 903 simplifies the authentication process for certain types of evidence by allowing for certification, which is a more efficient way to establish authenticity. However, it still allows for challenges to the certification’s accuracy to ensure the reliability of the evidence presented in court.


(Pub. L. 93–595, §1, Jan. 2, 1975, 88 Stat. 1945; Apr. 26, 2011, eff. Dec. 1, 2011.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Proposed Rules

The common law required that attesting witnesses be produced or accounted for. Today the requirement has generally been abolished except with respect to documents which must be attested to be valid, e.g. wills in some states. McCormick §188. Uniform Rule 71; California Evidence Code §1411; Kansas Code of Civil Procedure §60–468; New Jersey Evidence Rule 71; New York CPLR Rule 4537.

Committee Notes on Rules—2011 Amendment

The language of Rule 903 has been amended as part of the restyling of the Evidence Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only. There is no intent to change any result in any ruling on evidence admissibility.

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