Are Records Kept by Persons In Public Office Admissible In Court ?
In Bell v. Kendrick, 25 Fla. 778, 6 So. 868 (Fla. 1889), this Court considered whether evidence of a certificate of a deed was admissible in an action for ejectment when the deed was lost and had never been recorded. the Court noted that records kept by persons in public office are generally admissible, and explained:
Whenever a written record of the transactions of a public officer is a convenient and appropriate mode of discharging the duties of his office, it is not only his right, but his duty, to keep that written memorial, . . . and, when kept, it becomes a public document--a public record--belonging to the office, and not to the officer.Id. at 869.
The Court concluded that because "it was clearly the duty of the register of state lands to keep in his office a register of sales and conveyances of land," a certified transcript of these entries was admissible as evidence of the execution of the conveyance. Id. at 870.
Twenty years after Bell, the Legislature enacted Florida's first public records statute, which mandated that "all State, county and municipal records" be open "for a personal inspection of any citizen of Florida, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse this privilege to any citizen." Ch. 5942, Laws of Fla. (1909).
The statute did not provide a definition of public records and this Court continued to apply the "discharge of duty" analysis established in Bell. See Amos v. Gunn, 84 Fla. 285, 94 So. 615, 634 (Fla. 1922) ("A public record is one required by law to be kept, or necessary to be kept in the discharge of a duty imposed by law, or directed by law to serve as a memorial and evidence of something written, said, or done.").