Judge allows audio recording in case against former life skills teacher
NEBRASKA CITY – Judge Julie Smith overruled motions filed by a former Nebraska City life skills teacher and set a pretrial conference on a child neglect charge on Nov. 13.
An attorney for Melissa Valenta earlier argued that a tape recording taken by a disabled student should not be admitted as evidence at trial because the ‘chain of custody’ can not be certain and would violate Valenta’s right to confront her accuser.
Judge Julie Smith said it is the judge’s duty to decide ‘chain of custody’ issues and noted that the student’s mother has testified that she did not alter the recordings. If the judge finds it unlikely that anyone tampered with the recordings, then they could be admitted.
The judge also said the audio recording is not the accuser and said it is premature to rule that the student will not be available to testify at trial.
Even if he does not testify at trial, the judge said others might identify the voices on the recording and said circumstantial evidence might establish the recording's authenticity.
She said the statement on the recording, “Ow, you stepped on my hand,” would not be hearsay and could be allowed at trial.
She said the allegations of child neglect with no injury are based on interactions between the student and Valenta on Sept. 13, 2022.