In introducing documents at trial, there are four important hurdles to overcome--that is, four important questions to answer.
- Is the document authentic?
- Is the document relevant?
- Does the document violate the hearsay rule?
- Does the document violate the best-evidence rule?
When these questions are answered, you have "laid a foundation" for the introduction of the document into evidence. These questions are generally answered by witness testimony.
If the document has not been pre-marked, a lawyer begins the process by saying something like, "Your Honor, may I have this document marked as Exhibit 1 for identification?" The "for identification" tag indicates that the document has not yet been admitted into evidence. It should be used until the judge has ruled on admissibility.
Next, the lawyer will ask questions of the witness (or witnesses) that will get the document over the four hurdles mentioned above. These questions and answers will differ according to the type and content of the document. There are many resources available that describe the substantive requirements for different types of documents.
After laying the proper foundation, the lawyer will offer the exhibit into evidence. The opposing lawyer may interpose objections at this point, after which the judge will rule on the document's admissibility.