Whenever someone wants to admit evidence in a trial, they first must ask themselves: is this evidence relevant? According to the Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 401, evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make a fact of consequence in a case more or less probable, and that fact is of consequence to determine the outcome. In plain language, this means that the evidence has to connect to the fact in some way to make it more or less likely that the fact occurred.
Whether or not a piece of evidence is relevant is the first obstacle attorneys must overcome when presenting evidence to the court because only evidence that a court decides is relevant will be admissible. It is important to note that the bar for what evidence is relevant is extremely low, and therefore almost every piece of evidence will be relevant. Courts must exclude all irrelevant evidence. Suppose a piece of evidence is deemed relevant, and it is not excluded under any of the other rules of evidence. In that case, it is up to the trier of fact—usually the jury—to decide how much weight the evidence carries.
John sued Jane for negligence because John and Jane got into a car accident. John, the plaintiff, wants to offer evidence that Jane caused the accident because she was texting on her phone while driving. John hopes to offer this evidence through one of John’s passengers Dave who saw Jane texting and driving when John passed her on the road. A court would deem this evidence relevant because it further supports that Jane likely caused the accident as she was distracted.
In the same case, Jane wants to offer evidence that Jane saw John driving one time a year ago. This evidence is not relevant because it fails to make a fact of consequence more or less likely.
Things to Consider After Evidence Is Deemed Relevant
After a court has determined a piece of evidence is relevant, a court may consider many other factors that could still exclude the evidence. Judges act as the gatekeepers when deciding what evidence is excluded or not. Depending on the jurisdiction, a court must or may exclude evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury; or a court may exclude evidence if the probative value is substantially outweighed by undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation.
Because it takes a deep understanding of the rules of evidence to know what a court will allow into evidence or what they exclude, it is important to hire an experienced catastrophic injury lawyer, like from Eglet Adams. Always make sure to hire the right trial attorney for your case as civil and criminal cases are different and the evidence rules that apply to them are different. Many cases can be won or lost based on what evidence is admitted in a trial.