Hearsay: Statements which are not hearsay 801(d)(1) and (2).

Hearsay is a complicated area of evidence. In order to understand hearsay and use it appropriately in court you must know three things: What it hearsay, what are the exceptions to hearsay, and what isn’t hearsay (a.k.a. Non-Hearsayor Not-Hearsay).  F.R.E.801(d)(1) contends with statements which are considered Not-Hearsay.

Remember, hearsay is an out of court statement offered for it’s truth and is excluded because we don’t consider it reliable.

You may be asking yourself why we have any exceptions to the hearsay rule if we prohibit the admission of hearsay because it is unreliable? Answering that question gives us an interesting glimpse of our societal mores and morays.  While we are aware of the inherent risk of reliability in the “Telephone” game that is a hearsay statement, as a society we have determined that there are certain circumstances when that out-of-court statement is more reliable than not, thus eliminating to some extent the risk of unreliability and the need for cross examination.

So let’s take a look at some of the instances in which an out of court statement made by a declarant is more reliable than not. Under F.R.E. 801(d)1 a statement is not hearsay if it is a prior statement by a given witness. Of course this is evidence, so it can’t simply be any statement given by a witness.  Here are the elements:

  1. If the declarant (remember, in hearsay instances the declarant is the person who made the out of court statement being offered into evidence.) has testified at the trial or hearing and;
  2. The declarant was subject to cross-examination concerning the statement at the time the statement was made, and;
  3. the statement is:  inconsistent or consistent with his testimony and is offered to rebut an express or implied charge against him of recent fabrication or improper influence or motive, or;
  4. the statement is one of identification of a person the declarant made after perceiving that person.

So 801(d)(1) identifies three categories of prior statements made by witnesses that are simply “not hearsay”: 1. Statements consistent with the statement the witness is making in court, 2. Statements inconsistent with the statement the witness is making in court, and 3. statements made by the witness that identified someone.  In order for these statements to be considered not hearsay the declarant must be testifying at trial and subject to cross examination when the out of court statement is being offered.

One of the reasons this “not hearsay” treatment for these inconsistent statements is confusing is because the statements themselves aren’t hearsay if used for impeachment purposes.  Remember, out of court statements are only hearsay if they are offered for their truth, if you are dealing with a prior inconsistent statement being offered only to impeach the witness, then it’s truth is irrelevant.  801(d)(1) permits the use of prior inconsistent statements for their truth if the statement was given under oath subject to penalties at a trial, hearing or deposition.

Okay, what does that mean, it can be offered for it’s truth instead of just impeachment?  For example:

At deposition:

Q: What color was the light?

A. It was red.

At trial:

Q: You testified the light was green.

A. Yes.

Q. You gave a deposition in this case?

A. Yes.

Q. At that deposition you testified the light was red.

Objection! Hearsay.

It’s a prior inconsistent statement under 801(d)(1)(A) your honor.

Overruled. The witness may answer.

A. Yes. I did.

Okay yes, you impeached your witness, now the jury sees they made two statements at different times. Bad witness, shame on you! Under impeachment rules, that is all you get to do, but under 801(d)(1)(A), because her statement was made under oath at a deposition, you can introduce it to prove the light was red.

F.R.E. 801(d)(1)(B) prior consistent statements can be used to rehabilitate a witness once they have been impeached, without triggering any hearsay concerns. Again, these prior consistent statements have to have been made at a trial, hearing, or deposition and have to have been made under oath and subject to cross examination.

F.R.E. 801(d)(1)(C) permits the use of prior statements of identification.  These statements of identification do not have to be made in court under oath, because with identification statements we, as a society, believe statements made while perceiving someone are generally more reliable than statements made while pointing to the defendant in a courtroom.

Looking around the court room today do you see the woman who stabbed you?

Why yes I do Prosecutor, she is sitting at the table marked “Defendant.”

For truth finding purposes that statement of identification is much less useful than one made at the scene.

Help! Call the police, that blonde woman with the huge wart on her nose just stabbed me!

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Now moving on to the next type of “not hearsay” statements.  801(d)(2) handles admissions by party opponents, those out of court statements made by parties to the case and offered against them at trial. It is one of the largest hearsay loopholes and allows the court to consider virtually anything a party has ever said or communicated in any way, so long as it is sought to be used against them at trial.  The reasons we allow these admissions into evidence is two-fold, from a policy standpoint it makes sense to make people accountable to their own statements, promises, etc.  Secondly, the risks inherent in hearsay statements, that “Telephone” concern, are reduced greatly by the fact that the person making the statement, or adopting the statement,  is in the courtroom and a party to the case. If the statement was false when it was made or was made outside the party’s control or permission, then the party can explain that in court when the statement is offered.

The rule has two initial elements: 1. it requires that the declarant be a party to the case and 2. it requires that the statement be offered against that party. Once those two elements are met, then the following five types of admissions are considered “not hearsay”:

  1. the party’s statement in either an individual or a representative capacity or;
  2. a statement of which the party has manifested his adoption or belief in its truth; or;
  3. a statement by a person authorized by the party to make a statement concerning the subject or;
  4. a statement by the party’s agent or servant concerning a matter within the scope of the agency or employment, made during the existence of the relationship, or;
  5. a statement by a co-conspirator of a party during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.

Each of these five types of admissions are established by the connection between the person who made the statement and the person that statement is offered against at trial.

For 801(d)(2)(a) the statement has to have been made by the declarant and offered against the declarant. That is all that is required. The declarant didn’t have to belive the statement, be sober or able to think clearly, understand what was going on, etc.  All the declarant had to do was speak. As this rule also allows for representative statements things like blog posts, twitter posts, facebook posts, police reports signed by the declarant, insurance forms signed by the declarant, and more can fall into this category.

Defendants house burns down, the insurance agent writes out a statement on the claim form, describing the damage and the cause of the fire. Defendant reads the form, and then signs it in order to get his check.

The insurance statement can be offered into evidence for it’s truth without triggering any hearsay objections because the declarant signed it.

801(d)(2)(b) deals with adoptive admissions which are usually the declarant’s reaction to to a statement or action made by another person. This rule is almost an extension of 801(d)(2)(A) in that the declarant is being held to a belief or statement in which she expressed some sort of agreement, either expressly or by omission.  In this rule, silence can also be considered an admission.

A domestic violence victim is crying in front of the police saying “why did you hit me so hard?” The defendant says nothing.

The fact the defendant said nothing to defend himself in a situation where most people would be falling over backwards doing verbal gymnastics to convince the police it was an accident or they didn’t hit her can be used against him at trial, as an 801(d)(2)(A) admission.

801(d)(2)(C) handles statements made by those people who have been given express authority to make statements on behalf of the party.  A PR person is a good example here, or the spin doctor for a politician.

Congressman Smarm is being tried for perjury on the stand.  He stated clearly in court that he never smoked pot in his life.  The prosecutor offers against him  a statement his campaign manager made while campaigning for him in Boulder, Colorado. “Congressman Smarm may be a politician, but he understands the people.  He supports marijuana for medical reasons and likes to say he would enjoy supporting it once again for recreational ones.”

Because Congressman Smarm has expressly given his campaign manager the right to speak on his behalf, the Congressman can be held accountable for those statements as if they were his own. This is called “Express Authority”.

801(d)(2)(d) concerns itself with statements by the party’s agent or servant concerning a matter within the scope of the agency or employment, made during the existence of the relationship.  These statements come from people who have some sort of business relationship with the party, or agency relationship, and because of their role in the life or business of the party, one would take their statements about their role to be an expression of the party even though they are not expressly authorized to make that statement.

A truck driver gets into an accident and is found to be intoxicated. While at the scene he says “I shouldn’t have had that third beer before work.”

That statement can be offered against the employer to prove liability. It is considered “Apparent Authority”.

Finally, 801(d)(2)(e) deals with statements by a co-conspirator of a party during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy. Here the co-conspirator’s statements may be offered against a party without evidence of authorization for the declarant to speak for that party so long as the Court has additional facts that prove the existence of a conspiracy and the Court considers the circumstances surrounding the statement.  Note that the statement had to have been made in furtherance of the conspiracy, so if the statement was made after the conspiracy was over, the admission would trigger hearsay objections.

Three law school buddies are sneaking into the library to tear all the relevant pages out of the statute books in the stacks.  After tearing out the pages in all the books in one part of the library, Student A and B are ready to leave, then Student C says “Wait, I see a bunch of statute books on the table in the study room, let’s make sure to get those pages out too.”

If the law students were tried for conversion, vandelism, or any myriad of other acts, Student C’s statements could be offered against A and B as proof that they were taking pages out of statute books in the library. (Be careful with whom you conspire.)

These prior statements and admissions are the first set of out of court statements that are not considered hearsay because they are considered less unreliable than other out of court statements.  F.R.E. 803 and 804 deal with hearsay exceptions.  Those rules express society’s belief as to under which circumstances we are more likely to tell the truth. These rules will be discussed in later articles.

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Sources for this Article include:

Evidence, Seventh Edition, Arthur Best

Prof. Karen Steinhauser’s Evidence Class, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

The Federal Rules of Evidence.

The Colorado Rules of Evidence.

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Hearsay

My law professor once said that Lawyers are the mages of the modern day because we use archaic language to draw forth the coersive powers of the State.

Most students of the law enter school believing they will be taught the secret language of the law and will emerge knowing how to understand the arcane Latin sounding rules only understood by other legal practitioners. Often, they find their education disappointing because many of the rules they encounter sound fairly intuitive and easy to understand, depending more on the reasonableness of the average person and less on powers of Latin interpretation.

The Hearsay Rule is not one of those intuitive rules. It is a much despised rule, one which has risen in the annals of legal scholarship to be as hated as the Rule against Perpetuities. So dust off your jackets and be prepared to learn some intricacies. On the upside, once you master this arcane and tricky little rule, you will be able to amaze your friends and astound your employers with your insight.

We will begin by discussing the rationale behind the Hearsay Rule and then will move into the rule itself.

Growing up there was a game we used to play called Telephone. In this game someone whispered a sentence into one persons ear, who passed the message to another, and another, etc. Whomever was at the end of the line got to relay the message and everyone would laugh at the difference between the final message and the original one.

Telephone adequately outlines part of the rationale for the Hearsay Rule. We are concerned with the manner in which information changes as it passes from person to person and as such we prefer to have the original speaker testifying in court, as opposed to someone who heard him speak.  We want to talk to the people who witness things first hand, to learn what they saw directly from them, and judge their countenance when they tell us what they saw.

Another basis for the Hearsay Rule is nicely displayed in the Trial of Sir Walter Raleigh, an infamous proceeding traditionally credited with launching the development of the Hearsay Rule and the Confrontation Clause. Raleigh was tried for treason, accused of engaging in a plot to remove James I from the throne and place Lady Arabella Stuart in his place. The primary witness against Raliegh, Cobham, had been interrogated in the Tower of London and swore a confession that he later recanted. Raleigh asked the court repeatedly to bring Cobham to him during trial that he may cross-examine him. His request was denied and though his life was on the line, all of Cobham’s statements were allowed in against Raleigh without Raleigh being given a chance to question him.

Sir Walter Raleigh:  I have already often urged the producing of my Lord Cobham, but it is still denied me.  I appeal now once more to your Lordships in this:  my Lord Cobham is the only one that hath accused me, for all the treasons urged upon me are by reflection from him.  It is now clear that he hath since retracted; therefore since his accusation is recalled by himself, let him now by word of mouth convict or condemn me.  Campion, the Jesuit, was not denied to have his accusers face to face.  And if that be true which hath been some labored all this day, that I have been the setter-on of my Lord Cobham, his instigator, and have infused these treasons upon him, as hath been said, then have I been the efficient cause of his destruction; all his honours, houses, lands, and good, and all he hath, are lost by me; against whom, then, should he seek revenge but upon me? and the world knoweth him as revengeful of nature as any man living.  Besides, a dying man is ever presumed to speak truth:  now Cobham is absolutely in the King’s mercy; to excuse me cannot avail him, by accusing me he may hope for favour.  It is you, then, Mr. Attorney, that should press his testimony, and I ought to fear his producing, ifall that be true which you have alleged.

The court’s admission of testimony against Mr. Raleigh without the production of the witnesses behind that testimony produced an uproar that many attribute to the creation of the Confrontation Clause and the Hearsay Rule.

So, now you know the thoughts behind Hearsay, so what the heck is it?

FRE 801 defines Hearsay as “an out-of-court statement, written or oral, which is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. As short-hand you will often hear “an out of court statement offered for it’s truth.”
Terminology:

Declarant: The person making the statement.

What are the three elements of the Hearsay Rule?

A statement will be considered hearsay if it is:
1. An assertive statement
2. Made by an out-of-court declarant
3. and is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted therein.

An “assertive statement” is the intentional communication of fact. An assertive statement can be oral, written, or non-verbal conduct if it was intended to be an assertion. The intention to communicate a fact is what defines assertive statement. Therefore even silence can be an assertive statement, if one would normally speak at such a time and instead the declarant doesn’t speak. Even written documents made under oath, such as affidavits or notarized statements, are subject to the ‘hearsay rule’. (Focus on what the offered statement is asserting, not what the parties are asserting in their claims.)

In order for the statement to satisfy the “out-of-court declarant” element of hearsay, very simply stated, the statement must have been made outside of the courtroom that the present proceeding is taking place in — meaning that if the statement was made in another courtroom, it is still made by an “out-of-court” declarant. (However, some “out-of-court” statements under oath may still be admissible as a declaration against interest.) Do not make the mistake of thinking that all statements made in any court are not hearsay, if the statement was made under oath in another court and not the one you are in, it’s still an out of court statement.

Offered for it’s truth. An out of court statement may or may not be hearsay depending on the purpose for which it is offered. If the statement is being offered to prove the truth of what it asserts, then it becomes hearsay. When offered for any other purpose the statement is not hearsay.

Okay, here is the counter-intuitive part:  The Hearsay Rule deals with concerns about the reliability of out of court statements, not with concerns about whether or not the out of court statements were made. Therefore the hearsay analysis is usually unchanged by the strength of the evidence offered. For example: A tape recording of the out of court statement, even fully authenticated, is still hearsay, if it is an assertion offered for it’s truth. As is a signed and notarized assertion. Hearsay deals with our concerns about confrontation and the inferences juries draw from out of court statements, not with our ability to prove the existence of or strength of the evidence we are offering.

One of the reasons we are so concerned with hearsay statements is that each statement offered in court, regardless of whether it is hearsay or not, is subject to error.  Every statement we offer in court has the potential to be based on faulty memory, poor articulation, lies or insincerity, or a lack of perception. Out of court statements are therefore more concerning, because the statements cannot be cross-examined, and therefore they cannot be tested for their truth by the opposing side.

Determining whether an out-of-court statement is hearsay is fairly simple to do. First, ask whether or not the statement must be believed to be relevant. In other words, is the statement only relevant if it is true? If the answer to that question is “yes,” then the out-of-court statement is hearsay, if the answer is no, then it is not hearsay.

There are a variety of reasons why an out of court statement might be offered to prove something other than it’s truth. For example, words have power in the law and quite often the utterance of words is a legal act, or a verbal act. If you accept a contract to mow your neighbors lawn, your verbal acceptance is an act that evidences the existence of a contract. If you get married, the statement “I now pronounce you man and wife” has the power of creating a unity of two previously separate people. Therefore the existence of these words in court is often to show the effect on the listener, the existence of a contract, or other significant legal fact, as opposed to being offered for their truth. As the words are not offered for their truth, they are not considered Hearsay.

The FRE also includes rule delineating instances when out of court statements offered for their truth are Non-Hearsay. These instances concern admissions by parties to the case and they are non-hearsay in part because the party is present in court, and therefore the concerns regarding confrontation are lessened.

Party admissions are statements made by a party in a lawsuit which are offered by the opponent. Though the simplest form of admission is a statement made by the opposing party in either his individual or representative capacity, Rule 801(d)(2) provides for a number of vicarious admissions (statements of a declarant other than the party opponent) which are attributed to the party opponent because of either the party’s adoption of the statement or because of some relationship between the party opponent and the declarant.

The Hearsay Rule has a number of exceptions to it as well, and these exceptions will be discussed in further articles.

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Sources for this Article include:

Evidence, Cases, Commentary, and Problems. David Skanlsky

Prof. Karen Steinhauser’s Evidence Class, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

The Federal Rules of Evidence.

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Relevance

The two most basic rules in modern evidence law are that all irrelevant evidence should be excluded and all relevant evidence should be admitted. In general these two rules are simple, but the bulk of evidence law stems from the exceptions that have been created over our shared legal history to the rule that all relevant evidence should be admitted.

We have chosen to control what gets introduced as evidence in a court of law in order to avoid the waste of time and resources, undue advantage or disadvantage to one side or another, and to avoid the sense of impropriety or imbalance in our justice system. Relevancy is the primary sifting tool we use to determine whether or not a piece of information should be brought into the courtroom during a case.

Relevancy is not a characteristic of a piece of evidence, in other words, you will never be able to say “This type of evidence is always relevant.” Relevancy is a characteristic of any given piece of evidence that depends upon the relationship between that piece of evidence and a matter to be proved in that particular case. Further, relevancy analysis is the first step in evidentiary analysis, but it is not the last step. There are many other considerations that must be made and requirements that must be met before a piece of evidence may be admitted.

FRE 401 defines “Relevant evidence” as “any fact having any tendency to make the existence of any fact of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”

There are two important elements to FRE 401:

  1. The evidence must be directed at some fact that is important to the issues in the case. (Fact of consequence)
  2. The evidence must make the existence of that fact of consequence more or less probable.

In order to analyze the issue of relevance for a particular piece of evidence you have to first understand the purpose for which the evidence is being offered. Why does the proponent of the evidence (the person trying to get it in) want the fact finder (the judge or jury) to hear/see that fact?

The spirit of the Federal Rules of Evidence can be summed up into three “r’s”.
Relevance, Reliability, and Rightness.

The analysis you should conduct when viewing a potential piece of evidence is as follows:
Is the evidence relevant for the offered purpose? If not, your inquiry ends here. If it is relevant;
Is the evidence reliable for the offered purpose? IF no, even though it is relevant it should not be admitted. If yes;
Is it right to allow the fact finder to receive the evidence for the offered purpose? Even if the evidence is relevant and reliable, there may be good reasons for keeping it out, including constitutional structures (Were Miranda warning issued?), matters of social policy (Insurance and settlements not allowed to show liability because of social policy encouraging insurance and settlements), and considerations of unfair prejudice prejudice and courtroom efficiency.

Relevant evidence need not, on it’s own, be capable of proving the point it is offered in support of. It need only be a link in a chain that ultimately proves or disproves a fact material to the case at hand. Therefore relevance analysis is often the analysis of a chain of references. For example: Defendant is charged with murdering his wife.

The fact that husband had a gambling problem could be relevant. The chain of inference could read: Husband has money troubles –> Wife has life insurance policy –> Husband is beneficiary –> Husband killed wife.

The fact that husband had a gambling problem alone isn’t enough to support an inference of murder, but as a link in the chain of evidence the information makes it more likely that he did, thereby making it relevant.

Evidence must be rationally relevant however. If someone sued a police officer for brutality it wouldn’t be relevant for the Plaintiff’s attorney to ask the Officer if he is married. His marital status has nothing to do with evaluating his conduct as a police officer. In other words, knowing that the plaintiff is married does not help the trier of fact decide whether the officer used to much force against the Plaintiff so the rules of evidence keep that information out of the trial.

Federal Rule of Evidence 403 deals with the balance between probative evidence and prejudicial evidence. In a manner of speaking, all evidence introduced at a trial is prejudicial, as each piece of evidence is being offered to prove or disprove a fact that favors one side over the other. However, the Court has to weigh each piece of evidence to determine if that evidence has more probative value than prejudicial effect. In other words, is this piece of evidence more useful to ascertaining the truth in this case than it is prejudicial to the side opposing it? If the evidence is highly probative and highly prejudicial the Court will often see if there is another way to get that information into the trial without using the prejudicial evidence.

FRE 403 acknowledges that jurors and judges are people and they carry their prejudices into the courtroom with them, regardless of how hard they work to keep them out. Therefore some pieces of relevant evidence will be kept out because they could cause the finder of fact to form negative impressions on the defendant or plaintiff, and then the risk would exist that the fact finder would make their decision based upon those negative inferences, rather than the evidence.

For example, the fact that the defendant was a Satan worshipper is likely to be more prejudicial than it is probative. FRE 403 does not authorize the exclusion of prejudicial evidence unless that evidence in unfairly prejudicial. Prejudice caused by the potential of the evidence to inflame the jury fits that description.

The Federal Rules of Evidence place a great deal of discretion with the trial judge, and it is important to note that FRE 403 does not demand the exclusion of prejudicial evidence, but instead says the evidence “may be excluded”. Occasionally judges are reversed for abusing their discretion under 403, but it is unusual. It is more common to find cases where the appellate court upholds the trial court’s discretion, and their exclusion.

FRE 403 also allows for the exclusion of relevant evidence in the interests of efficiency. Evidence can be excluded under this rule when it’s admission would present an undue waste of time, cause delay, or is needlessly cumulative or repetitive.

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Sources for this article include:

Evidence, Examples and Explanations, 7th Edition. Arthur Best

Evidence, Cases, Commentary, and Problems. David Skanlsky

Prof. Karen Steinhauser’s Evidence Class, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

The Federal Rules of Evidence.

Expert Commentary from the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, 2011.

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Introduction to Evidence.

Evidence is defined as “the means by which any matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, may be established or disproved. That which demonstrates, makes clear, or ascertains the truth of the very fact or point in issue, either on the one side or the other.”  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary, 2010.

The law of evidence is the set of rules which govern what testimony (oral or written statements), exhibits (physical documents, physical objects, video, etc.) and other material is allowed to be offered in a court or administrative proceeding in order to prove the elements of a claim, crime, or cause of action.

The rules of evidence operate together to keep any one person or entity from having full control of the courtroom. Attorneys find evidence as they develop their case and then present that evidence to the court, arguing which rules allows it to be presented or objecting when they believe a rule prohibits its introduction. Judges decide whether or not the rules allow or prohibit that piece of evidence, and the jury decides how much value that piece of evidence should have. As such, when dealing with evidence, court decisions rest in the hands of all parties to the case, instead of just one.

The current Federal Rules of Evidence evolved over time through common law precedent. In the early twentieth century James Bradley Thayer, an evidence professor at Harvard, began to organize the common law rules. His work was continued by Thayer’s student John Henry Wigmore who published a gigantic treatise on the law of evidence that is widely considered to be the most influential treatise on American jurisprudence ever written.

Congress adopted the first Federal Rules of Evidence in July of 1975 and codified the previous precedential rules in the process.  The Federal Rules of Evidence are mandatory in the federal courts and before federal magistrate judges and federal bankruptcy judges. The rules are also used as guidance in other federal proceedings such as administrative hearings, but are not mandatory. The States have used the Federal Rules of Evidence as a template for their own rules of evidence, so you will see a lot of similarities in the various jurisdiction. Beware, however, and do not assume all states adopted all the federal rules. There are subtle differences everywhere you look.

The primary focus of our Rules of Evidence is to determine what is the most reliable information we can present to the court to support our client’s side of the argument. When you are faced with these seemingly endless rules it is important to remember that they are basically a consensus concerning the types of statements, documents, physical objects, and other material we as a society consider to be the most reliable ways to find out the truth.

For example, in order to offer scientific information as evidence it must be information gained by a process that is recognized by a fair number of other scientists as reliable. It cannot be an unpopular fringe science that other scientists don’t believe is valid. We as a society have determined that a method supported by the majority of scientists is more reliable for discerning truth then a process or method that is supported by very few scientists.

Each of the Rules of Evidence deals with the validity and reliability of the information we choose to use in our courtroom to decide which side’s story is more believable.

So in plain English, what is Evidence?

There are two basic concepts to evidence, logical relevancy and legal relevancy. Logically relevant evidence is any fact that helps prove or disprove a fact “at issue” in a particular case. In other words, evidence is any fact that has a tendency to make the existence of any fact at issue in that particular case more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Legally relevant evidence has to be logically relevant but it must also be more useful than it is prejudicial. We will discuss legal relevancy in more detail later, but an example would be the difference between producing the severed head of a murder victim, or the death certificate of a murder victim. Both items prove the person is dead, but one of them is so shocking that it is hard to think critically about the case once it has been introduced. Therefore the severed head, though logically able to prove the death of the victim, is not legally relevant.

There are four basic types of evidence:

1. Witness testimony (Sense evidence, Eye, Ear, Smell, Taste, Feel)

  • Layperson testimony– Jane was out on her daily run past the 7-11 when she heard a gunshot. She dove to the ground, looked up, and saw a man in a red jacket running away from the store with a plastic bag in his hand.
  • Expert Testimony — Testimony based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge from a qualified as an expert.

2. Exhibits — Tangible items offered during trial.

  • “real evidence” — i.e. the smoking gun, the bloody glove, the severed head.
  • Demonstrative exhibits — a sketch of the intersection at the time of a car crash, photographs of the damage done to the car, etc.
  • Documentary exhibits –  business records, diaries, letters, etc.

3. Stipulations — Facts both parties agree to before the trial starts in order to speed up the process and lower the cost of litigation. (For example, a Defense attorney for a drunk driver may stipulate to the fact the driver was drinking if her defense centered on mistaken identity. (As in, he wasn’t driving so it doesn’t matter if he was drinking. )

4. Judicial Notice — The court will recognize notorious facts that are subject to common knowledge within the community and manifest facts that are capable of positive verification through readily accessible and undoubtedly accurate sources without requiring formal presentation of evidence.

  • How much rain fell in Colorado in 2009 is a manifest fact as it can be readily verified by looking at an Almanac.
  • The human gestation period of 280 days is a notorious fact as it is commonly known within the community.

There is also Direct versus Circumstantial Evidence.

Direct evidence includes eye witness testimony, confessions, admission of liability of the defendant. Example: “I saw the man shoot the woman with the gun outside the convenience store!” says the Witness

Circumstantial evidence is indirect and proves facts by implication or inference. Example: Finding your dog in your kitchen with a torn up empty package of hot dogs. Gee. Where did the hot dogs go?

Both Direct and Circumstantial evidence are admissible in court if the evidence in question is able to pass the tests of the other rules of evidence.

Much of the evidence used at trial is gathered through Discovery, the process during which each side asks the other questions and requests information from the other. Once it’s gathered, there are a variety of ways to attempt to exclude it from trial, the most notable of which is objection.

In order to understand how evidence works you have to understand all the rules and the manner in which they co-exist, from the rules designed to exclude prejudicial evidence to the exceptions designed to include it, all the rules work together. Additionally, the area of law in which the trial is founded may have an effect on the admissibility of evidence, as the elements of the argued claim are essential to the determination of relevancy. However, at its core the Rules of Evidence remain an eloquent codification of the facts our society deems to be the most reliability.

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Sources for this Article include:

Karen Steinhauser’s Evidence Class, University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Ballantine’s Law Dictionary, 201o Edition.

The Federal Rules of Evidence.

Expert Commentary from the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, 2011.

Evidence: Cases, Commentary, and Problems 2cnd Edition. David Alan Sklansky.

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