Admissible evidence is any document, testimony, or tangible evidence used in a court of law. Evidence is typically introduced to a judge or a jury to prove a point or element in a case.
- Criminal Law: In criminal law, evidence is used to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Civil Law: in civil law, an element of a case is weighed by the standard of preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower standard that "beyond a reasonable doubt."
However, before evidence can even be used in a criminal case, it must be considered “admissible”. Whether evidence is admissible or not depends on several different factors that the court must analyze. Many different items and statements are often excluded from evidence in a criminal trial because it is considered “inadmissible”.
The general rule is that all irrelevant evidence is inadmissible and all relevant evidence is admissible.
There are two basic factors that are considered when determining whether evidence is admissible or not:
- Relevant – The evidence must prove or disprove an important fact in the criminal case. If the evidence doesn’t relate to a particular fact, it is considered "irreelvant" and is therefore inadmissible.
- Reliable – Reliability refers to the credibility of a source that is being used as evidence. This usually applies to witness testimony.
There are four basic types of evidence:
Evidence inadmissibility is an extremely nuanced field of law. Although evidence rules are driven by public policy, those same rules often have exceptions and those exceptions can have exceptions. In general though, evidence is more likely to be inadmissible if the evidence is:
- Unfairly Prejudicial – Evidence that arouses the jury’s outrage without adding any material information is often excluded. For example, the picture of children around a victim’s body is often ruled as being unfairly prejudicial.
- Wastes Time – In trials, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Juries do not have to hear from twenty separate character witnesses to know that the defendant is typically an honest person.
- Misleading – Evidence that could draw the jury’s attention away from the main issues of the case are misleading and often excluded. For example, the defendant’s homosexuality in a child molestation case is misleading since the issue is whether the defendant had sex with a minor. The gender of the minor is irrelevant.
- Hearsay – Testimony which is made outside of the court to prove the truth of the matter is often excluded. For example, if a witness claims another witness said the defendant hit the victim with a knife and the prosecutor wants to use the testimony to prove that the defendant stabbed the victim, that testimony is considered hearsay. However, the hearsay rule has over forty different exceptions such as the dying declaration exception.
- Character – Evidence to prove that the defendant or the victim has a certain personality trait and that the defendant acted according in consistently with that personality trait is often excluded. The exception is if the defendant introduces character evidence first.
- Expert Testimony – Expert testimony can only be given by experts. "Lay" witnesses cannot give expert testimony.
- Privileges – Evidence is often excluded if it came from a privileged source of information. The most important privileges are between attorneys and clients, as well as the right against self-incrimination.
If an item of evidence is considered inadmissible, it means that it can’t be used in court during trial as evidence against the accused. An example of this is where a witness statement is considered irrelevant because it doesn’t prove or disprove any facts in the case. In that case, the statement can’t be entered into the record as evidence and won’t be used against the defendant during trial.
Thus, it’s very important to make sure that evidence is carefully reviewed and analyzed in preparation for trial. This generally requires the assistance of a qualified criminal attorney, who understands the specific evidence rules for their jurisdiction.
Evidence is one of the most important aspects of a criminal trial. If you need help with evidence issues, it is in your best interest to hire a criminal defense lawyer. Your attorney can provide you with professional legal advice and can represent you in court.