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What Is Relevant Evidence In A Legal Case?

Evidence Part I
By Benjamin A. Tracy, Columbus Criminal Defense Lawyer and Civil Rights Attorney
This is the first part of a series of posts about what evidence can, cannot, should, and
should not, be used in court.
Part I, Relevance
Almost everyone has an idea about what relevance means. In everyday use it means
having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand. In the context of
business and investing, information is often considered relevant and material if it is
information that a reasonable purchaser of stock would want to know about a business
before buying. In short, in non-legal and semi-legal contexts, relevance is mostly a
yes answer to the question, Would I want to know it while considering this issue? In
court, however, relevance is a bit different. This may be best illustrated by example.
Assume that you are on a jury trying to decide if a man should be found guilty of having
cheated on his taxes. Would you want to know if he also regularly beat his children?
Most jurors would. A juror would probably think to himself that anyone who is willing to
beat their children probably would not think twice about cheating on their taxes. In the
legal context though (absent certain special circumstances) the prosecution would never
be allowed to introduce evidence that the man beat his kids. There are a number of
reasons for this.
First, evidence is relevant in the legal context if it has any tendency to make a fact more
or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and the fact is of consequence in
determining the action. In the example I just gave, the fact that someone hurts kids
does not actually tell you anything factually about whether and how they report their
income. The fact that he beat his kids just does not have anything to do with the simple
and narrow question, did this man misreport his income? Since it has nothing to do
with that question, it is not relevant and courts do not hear and will not accept irrelevant
information.
Second, in every U.S. court relevant evidence can still be excluded (that is, not accepted
or heard) if its value as evidence is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or
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more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue
delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence. Among these
possibilities, the most common reason relevant evidence is excluded is unfair prejudice
and the example shows exactly why. Logically speaking, whether a man beats his
children has probably no correlative relationship with whether or not he cheats on his
taxes. Plenty of people who beat their children do not cheat on their taxes. Plenty of
people who cheat on their taxes have never harmed their children. Yet, most jurors
hearing this case would probably be willing to condemn the accused simply because
they would think he is a bad man who hurts his children. That is, they would be
convicting him of the crime of tax evasion not because they had any information to show
that on this specific occasion the accused intentionally incorrectly reported his income,
but because they think he is a bad guy. This is an impermissible reason to convict.
The fact that the fellow in the example is a bad guy and is going to get away with
harming his children leaves a rotten taste in most mouths. But in the United States we
make it a principle not to convict people simply because they are bad, but because they
have done some specific wrong on some specific occasion. If the government wished to
convict this guy of income tax evasion, they should have presented evidence of income
tax evasion. If they wanted to convict him of something based on the fact that he hurts
his children, they should have charged him with child abuse.
If you are under investigation, or have been arrested by any law enforcement agency,
feel free to contact one of our experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys, for a free initial
consultation about your legal rights and possible defenses. In addition, if you have been
wrongfully convicted, arrested, imprisoned, maliciously prosecuted, or have suffered
some other wrong, feel free to contact one of our experienced Civil Attorneys, for a free
initial consultation.
PRIMA FACIE
The Latin term prima facie means at first glance, or at first appearance, and it is
generally used to describe how a situation appears on initial observation. In the
legal system, prima facie is commonly used to refer to either a piece of evidence
which is presumed to be true when first viewed, or a legal claim in which enough
evidence is presented to support the validity of the claim. To explore this concept,
consider the following prima facie definition.
Definition of Prima Facie
Pronounced
2

pr-muh- fey-shuh
Adverb
At first appearance, before investigation
Adjective
Self-evident, plain or clear, obvious
Origin
First Century

Latin

History of the Term Prima Facie


This Latin term literally translates as at first face, or at first appearance. Modern
English tends to use the term to mean on the face of it, in conversational English,
academic philosophy, and the law. Prima facie implies that evidence exists which,
unless disproven, is sufficient to prove a certain fact or circumstance.
Example of use in academic philosophy:
Anthropologists agreed that a relationship exists between race and culture.
Therefore, cultural diversity within a given geographical area may be seen as prima
facie evidence that the inhabitants were racially diverse.
Use of Prima Facie in the Legal System
In the U.S. legal system, there must be a prima facie case in order to commence
legal proceedings, meaning that there must be enough evidence at first glance to
assume that the plaintiff has a valid legal claim. This does not mean there must be
sufficient evidence to prove the claim when filing, as determining the presence and
truth of such evidence is the purpose of the trial system.
Prima Facie in a Civil Lawsuit
When someone files a civil lawsuit, he must present facts or circumstances which
tend to support each element of his claim. If he fails to do so, he runs the risk of
having the case dismissed, or receiving an adverse directed verdict. This means
that the defendant may ask the judge to order a summary judgment or directed
verdict because there is no valid legal claim. This may be done before the
defendant even has to present evidence to disprove the plaintiffs claim, as the
burden of proving the case rests on the shoulders of the plaintiff.
Prima Facie in a Criminal Case
Before an individual can be tried on criminal charges, a preliminary hearing must be
held so that the court can determine whether there is sufficient cause to continue to
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trial. During this prima facie stage of the legal process, it is only necessary to
present some credible evidence of each element of the case. By contrast,
successfully prosecuting the defendant during trial requires that he is guilty of each
element of the crime be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
When an individual is being tried on criminal charges, the prosecutor has the
burden of presenting a prima facie case, proving each and every element of the
crime.
For example:
Angelo has been charged with burglary of Stephanies home. At trial, the
prosecutor must present evidence that Angelo entered into the home
without authorization, which is just one element of the crime of burglary.
The prosecutor presents testimony that Angelo and Stephanie had an
argument at work, during which Angelo flung some vague threats. A few
weeks following the burglary, Angelo was found to possess one of the
items stolen from Stephanies home.
While Angelo having possession of an item belonging to Stephanie is
suspicious, and may be evidence of some other crime, such as possession
of stolen property, it is not in itself evidence of a burglary. There were no
witnesses, and no evidence that Angelo was ever in Stephanies home.
The defendant could request the charge of burglary be dismissed, or that
the judge order a directed verdict, based on the prosecutions failure to
present a prima facie case for burglary, without ever having to present
any evidence of his own.
If, on the other hand, the prosecution presents any evidence that Angelo
had been in Stephanies home, such as a fingerprint, or an eyewitness
account, the requirement of presenting a prima facie case has been met.
This does not necessarily prove definitively that Angelo is guilty, but the
defendant would need to present evidence that either disproves, or
causes doubt about, Angelos guilt.
Evidence Accepted as Prima Facie
Evidence that may be accepted as prima facie is any evidence which, if accepted at
face value, supports the case, or a necessary element of the case.
For example:
Natalie and her husband, Mike, have a violent argument in which she
accuses him of cheating on her. The fight spills out the front door onto the
lawn, where a neighbor video records it with his smartphone. While Mike
got into his car and drove away after a few minutes, he was discovered
dead in the couples home a week later. The medical examiner determined
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that Mikes death had been caused by poison, and Natalie was
subsequently arrested and charged with first degree murder.
In order to gain a verdict of first degree murder, as opposed to other types
of murder, there must have been intent to commit murder. During the trial,
the prosecutor presents the neighbors video recording on which Natalie
can clearly be seen and heard threatening to kill Mike. This alone is not
proof that Natalie killed Mike, but it does serve to prove her intent. If the
prosecution is successful in proving the other elements of murder, the
video recording may serve as prima facie evidence that Natalie intended
to kill her husband.

The laws in each jurisdiction also define certain other types of evidence that may be
taken at face value, or which are considered as prima facie evidence in some cases.
For example, an official copy of a defendants criminal record may serve as prima
facie evidence of his character as a habitual criminal. In a civil case, a certified copy
of a real property deed may serve as prima facie evidence of a partys ownership of
the property.
Consideration of Prima Facie Evidence
When a court accepts prima facie evidence, it becomes the responsibility of the
opposing party to disprove that evidence if he does not want it taken at face value.
In the event a party presents sufficient evidence to refute such prima facie
evidence, the judge or jury may still consider the prima facie evidence, but it must
be considered with, and weighed against, all other evidence.
For example:
In most cases, proof than an individual mailed a letter is considered prima facie
evidence that the letter was delivered to the person to whom it was addressed. If
the individual to whom the letter was addressed wants to refute that fact, claiming
that he never received the letter, he must present some proof or convincing
argument.
Prima Facie vs. Res Ipsa Loquitur
The term prima facie is sometimes confused with the term res ipsa loquitur, which
means the thing speaks for itself. Res ipsa loquitur may be used to refer to a
situation in which the facts make it self-evident that the negligence, liability, or
responsibility for damages lies with a party, based on the very nature of the
accident or injury.

The difference between these two terms is that prima facie means there is enough
evidence to file or pursue a case. Res ipsa loquitur means that the facts are so
obvious that there is no need for further explanation.

For example:
Edward leaves his rented home for a few days, but forgets to turn off the hose filling
his pool. The water flows over, taking out part of the landscaping on its way to the
street. The landlord has filed a civil lawsuit seeking reimbursement for repairs to the
landscape, as well as for the fine imposed by the city.
In this case, res ipsa loquitur means that it is obvious the damages were caused by
the defendants negligent act. The home was placed in his care as a result of the
lease, and his negligence caused the damages. There is no need for the landlord to
otherwise prove liability, only the amount of damages.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
Civil Lawsuit A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have
suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
Defendant A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has
been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
Directed Verdict An order for a jury to return a specific verdict because there is no
legally sufficient evidence to support a different conclusion.
Jurisdiction The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the
geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
Plaintiff A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such
as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
Prosecutor A person, especially a public official, who institutes legal proceedings
against someone.
Summary Judgment A final decision on the case, handed down by the judge on the
basis of the statements and evidence presented, without a full trial.

Materiality, Relevance, and Admissibility of Evidence


In determining the admissibility of evidence, the judge should determine the relevance and
materiality of the information.Evidence must be both relevant and material to be admitted. In the

United States, a judge presiding over a jury trial will determine the relevance and the jury will
determine the materiality. In a bench trial, the judge presides as both trier of law and trier of fact.
Therefore, he will determine both the relevance and the materiality of the evidence presented.
Basic Rule : Evidence should be excluded if the prejudicial value outweighs the probative
value.
This ensures that the evidence does not unduly sway the trier or fact against the accused more than
the totality of evidence should sugggest.
The trier of fact should be given as fair a picture of the situation as possible, so if the evidence is
unduly prejudicial, the fairness of the trial would be negated.
We must consider materiality and relevance before we weigh the prejudicial value against the
probative value. If not material and relevant, then evidence is not admitted anyway.
Contents
[hide]

1 Materiality
2 Relevance
3 Prejudicial Value
4 Conditional Relevance
o

4.1 Foundation for admissibility of physical evidence or expert opinions

4.2 Proving personal knowledge for witnesses

4.3 Proof of defendant's prior bad act


5 Notes

Materiality
Evidence is material if it is offered to prove or disprove a specific fact in issue. Thus, evidence is
material if it relates to one of the particular elements necessary for proving or disproving a case. If

evidence is not material, it the defense or prosecution may object to the use of the evidence on
grounds that it would mislead the trier of fact, result in inefficient trials, and prove a distraction to the
substantive issues. The exclusion of immaterial evidence is sometimes called the collateral facts
rule.
Some evidence may be admissible even if it does not bear directly on an issue of fact as long as it
has a relationship to the weight or credibility of evidence (this is the collateral facts rule). Thus,
when a witness testifies their credibility, perception, memory and narration or communication
are all material even though they are not directly related to an issue of fact. The issue of
credibility arises especially with oral evidence, because of perception, memory, narration or
communication.
Collateral/Subordinate/Secondary facts are factual disputes that regard competence or credibility of
a witness or probative value of other evidence.

Relevance
Evidence is relevant if it indicates a relationship between facts that increases the probability of the
existence of the other. A trier of fact (judge or jury) determines the sufficiency or weight of the given
evidence. In other words, the trier of law decides whether the evidence is relevant enough to be
admitted, but the trier of fact decides how much ot counts (i.e. how much weight or probative value)
in determining the verdict.
In order for evidence to meet the relevance threshold, there must be merely some probative value. It
is for the trier of fact to decide whether there is sufficient probative value to convict.
Note: Even marginally probative evidence is admissible.

Prejudicial Value
Although relevant and material, evidence MAY be inadmissible if its probative value is substantially
outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by
considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence. [1]
Example: Photos of the murder victim are generally NOT relevant in the United States to prove death
because their prejudicial value outweighs the probative value.[2] However, photos may be relevant to
any other issue, such as method of killing, defendant's claim of self-defense, etc.

Conditional Relevance
In many cases, a given piece of evidence will only be relevant if another fact is established. This is
called conditional relevance. In the United States Federal system, conditional relevance is governed
by Federal Rule of Evidence 104(b):
When the relevancy of evidence depends upon the fulfillment of a condition of fact, the court shall
admit it upon, or subject to, the introduction of evidence sufficient to support a finding of the
fulfillment of the condition.
In order to determine conditional relevance, the judge must first make a determination their is
evidence "sufficient to prove by preponderance."[3]
In practice conditional relevance tends to apply in the following cases:

Foundation for admissibility of physical evidence or expert opinions

Example: Prosecution calls expert witness to the stand to prove bullet found at the crime
scene was fired from the weapon discovered in the defendant's home. The evidence is
conditionally relevant based on whether the expert opinion is based on reliable methods.

Proving personal knowledge for witnesses

Example: Prosecution calls witness to say defendant fired a weapon into a crowded
bus. The evidence is only relevant if the witness has first hand knowledge

Proof of defendant's prior bad act

Example: Prosecution wants to introduce evidence that defendant robbed store in the past
and had knowledge of how to do it. The evidence is only relevant if the defendant actually
committed the crime in the past.

CONCLUSIVE
What puts an end to a thing. A conclusive presumption of law is one which cannot be
contradicted even by direct and positive proof. Take, for example, the presumption
that an infant is incapable of judging whether it is or is not against his interest. When
infancy is pleaded and proved the plaintiff cannot show that the defendant was within
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one day of being of age when the contract was made and perfectly competent to make
a contract.

CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE
That which cannot be contradicted by any other evidence. For example, a record,
unless impeached for fraud, is conclusive evidence between the parties.

Conclusive evidence
Evidence that cannot be disputed and that, as a matter of law, must be taken toestablish some fact
in issue.
Collins Dictionary of Law W.J. Stewart, 2006
CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE. That which cannot be contradicted by any other evidence,; for exa
mple, a record, unlessimpeached for fraud, is conclusive evidence between the parties. 3 Bouv. I
nst. n. 3061-62.

Best Evidence Rule?


The best evidence rule is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a rule of evidence requiring the best
evidence of something be admitted at trial or during a hearing. In most cases, this means the original of
a document or object (or a verifiably accurate copy) must be the one used in court, unless it has been lost
or destroyed.

The best evidence rule has been part of U.S. law since colonial times. In the eighteenth century, a British
court described the rule as barring all evidence unless it was the best that the nature of the case will
allow. Before the era of reliable photocopiers and drag-and-drop file-sharing, the best evidence rule
helped to reduce the number of error-ridden copies or downright forgeries in court by requiring that the
original document, not a copy handwritten by a clerk, be used in court.
Today, litigants generally accept that a photocopy or scanned electronic version of an original document is
not likely to come with major errors or fraudulent changes from the original. At worst, a copy or scan
might be hard to read. Therefore, the best evidence rule does not typically come up when
photocopies of a document are used in court, unless one of the parties suspects that the
copies have been altered through fraud or by mistake.

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The best evidence rule affects both real evidence, or physical evidence, and documentary evidence,
or recordings of information used as evidence. In both cases, the real McCoy a defective object in a
products liability case or the original recording from a security camera, for example is generally
preferred over a copy of documentary evidence or a photograph, diagram, or model of real evidence.
This is not always the case, however. Sometimes, documentary evidence is acceptable because the actual
object was destroyed or simply cannot be brought into a courtroom. For example, a 2011 issue of the
ABA Journal discussed a personal injury case in which a railroad employee was injured by a
defective locomotive. The employees attorneys tried to have photographs of the
locomotive, which clearly showed the defects, admitted into evidence. The opposing
attorney objected, however, citing the best evidence rule: the locomotive itself was the best
evidence that the locomotive was defective. Therefore, the opposing attorney argued, the
actual locomotive should be admitted into evidence not the photographs of it.
Not surprisingly, the opposing attorney lost this argument. Even though it makes legal sense the best
evidence rule does require the actual object when you can get it it doesnt make real-world sense.
Bringing a full-size locomotive into court would be nearly impossible, so even if the defective locomotive is
still available, the best evidence rule would not require the plaintiff to bring it into court when good
photographs were available to show the jury as well.
In some cases, the best evidence rule becomes an issue due to spoliation. Spoliation occurs when one
party intentionally or negligently destroys or alters evidence, or something the party should reasonably
understand might be evidence in an upcoming court case. When spoliation results in the destruction or
altering of a piece of evidence, the best evidence rule may allow a copy, photograph, or less than best
alternative to be used, because the original is no longer intact or accurate. In these situations, the court
will usually also give a jury instruction that tells jurors theyre allowed to assume that the original
would have been harmful to the person who spoiled it.

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UNDERSTANDING THE BEST EVIDENCE


RULE
January 12, 2011 6 Comments
I would nominate MRE 1002 for second-most misunderstood rule of evidence (the all-time frontrunner, without peer, would be the hearsay rule).
Its fairly common to hear an exchange like this in court:
Atty 1:

How much did you pay for the house?

Atty 2:

Objection. The best evidence of what was paid would be the closing statement.

That objection and every one like it should be overruled.

MRE 1002 states:


To prove the content of a writing, recording or photograph, the original writing, recording or
photograph is required except as otherwise provided in these rules or by law. [Emphasis added]
The rule only applies and requires the original when a party is seeking to prove the content of the
original. Farris v. State, 906 So.2d 113, 115 (Miss. App. 2004). It does not apply simply because
there exists a writing, recording or photograph that may be considered the best evidence of the
matter.
The rule comes into play only when (a) the content of the writing, recording or photograph is itself
the thing a party is trying to prove, or (b) a party is trying to prove a matter by using a writing,
recording or photograph as evidence of it. The rule applies only when one seeks to prove the
contents of the writing, photograph or recording so that they may be construed, and does not apply
when one is seeking only to prove the existence of a writing, recording or photograph. Kinard v.

Morgan, 679 So.2d 623, 625 (Miss. 1996).


An example of (a) would be where the party is trying to testify to the terms of a written contract. The
contract itself would be the best evidence, and the original would need to be produced.

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An example of (b) would be where the witness is testifying about the a claim based on an invoice
that shows the items purchased, dates of purchase and prices. The original invoice would itself
establish the claim and would be the best evidence of the transaction.
The rule would not apply to the following situations:
A witness with personal knowledge can testify about how much he earned in a pay period without
producing the original pay records. Simply because written documents pertaining to a matter exist
does not mean that a witness may not testify on personal knowledge about the matter. On the
contrary, though, if the witness does not have personal knowledge and relies on documents for her
information, she would be required to produce the original documents.
A witness may testify that a document exists without producing the original, but any testimony about
the documents content will require production of the original.
A person who heard another make a statement that was recorded may testify about what she heard
without having to produce the recording.
The rule does not apply to physical evidence that is not writings, photographs or recordings. Riley v.
State, 1 So.3d 877, 882 (Miss. App. 2008). In Riley, the appellant argued unsuccessfully that the
State had violated the best evidence rule by not offering the original firearm involved in the crime into
evidence.
The evidence qualifies as a duplicate, as defined in MRE 1001(4).
So here is the bottom line: A witness may testify on personal knowledge about a matter even if there
is a writing, recording or photograph that documents the same thing, and the writing, recording or
photograph need not be produced in such an event; but you must produce the original if you are
trying to prove its content.
An important caveat: Just because you have satisfied MRE 1002 by producing the original does not
in and of itself make that original admissible. The document or recording must still meet
authentication and hearsay objections, and a foundation must be laid for admission of the
photograph.
MRE 1004 provides some exceptions to the requirement for the original, such as loss or destruction
of the original, original not obtainable, or original in possession of an opponent. Production of the
original may also be dispensed with if the document, recording or photograph pertains only to
collateral matters.

DOCUMENTARY OR PHYSICAL EVIDENCE

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Tutorial on the crimes of stalking and harassment for New


Mexico judges
Evidentiary Issues Pertaining to Documentary or Physical Evidence
Testimonial evidence presents the fact finder with only oral statements and their
manner of delivery from which to determine what weight and effect to place on the
evidence. In contrast, documentary or physical evidence presents the fact finder with an
actual item it can hold, examine, review or read when determining the weight and effect
to place on it.
Not all stalking or harassment cases will involve admission or exclusion of physical or
documentary evidence. However, when such evidence is part of the case, examples of
documentary evidence include:

Electronic communication records: The most common examples are


telephone call records, copies of emails sent and/or received, or internet usage
records if such technologies are alleged to have been used in the stalking or
harassment. Given the need for a "records custodian" to testify in order to have
such material actually come into evidence, see Rule 11-901 (authentication and
identification), such evidence is used fairly rarely. For example, on phone
records the records custodian could be an employee of the relevant
telecommunications company who may be based in another state which
may make appearance in a New Mexico courtroom financially impossible
for both the prosecution and defense.
Thus, the most common usage of such material is to refresh a witness's
recollection, typically the victim, regarding the frequency of electronic
communications, as well as the dates and times associated with them. When such
records are used to refresh recollection, the actual electronic communication
records themselves are not introduced into evidence, but instead are shown only to
the witness during his or her testimony as a means of assisting their recollection.
Once the recollection is refreshed, the witness must testify from their memory,
rather than reading from or relying heavily on the communication records.

"Hard copy" communications: Examples include hand written letters,


notes, drawings and similar means of communication if such methods
were alleged to have been used in the stalking or harassment. To have such

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items actually introduced into evidence, the witness who was the recipient of the
material would have to testify to the items' authenticity, the circumstances under
which they came into his or her possession and on what basis they determined the
items were produced by the individual they are alleging was responsible for their
creation.

Medical records: These records might be used to show the emotional impact the
alleged stalking or harassment had on the victim and/or physical manifestations
resulting from the distress caused by the alleged patterns of behavior. As with
electronic communication records, an appropriate custodian of such records would
have to testify to lay the proper foundation for their admission into evidence.

Domestic violence orders of protection: Where the charge of aggravated stalking


alleges that the defendant knowingly violated such an order under 30-3A-3(A)(1),
efforts would be made to introduce the order into evidence to prove its contents as
part of showing how the defendant's conduct was a violation of its provisions.

Court order regarding conditions of release and bond: Where the charge of
aggravated stalking alleges defendant violated such an order under 30-3A-3(A)(2),
efforts would be made to introduce the order into evidence to prove its contents as
part of showing how the defendant's conduct was a violation of its provisions.

Video surveillance records: For example, video might be available from a private
business or public institution to show the defendant's identity and the frequency of
his or her presence at that location if, for example, the alleged method of stalking is
surveillance under 30-3A-3(A)(2). Another example would be if the victim set up
video equipment on his or her own to identify the defendant and document that the
harassment or stalking was taking place. The same sort of video surveillance
records could be used by the defendant to show his or her presence elsewhere at
the time of the alleged stalking or harassment. An appropriate foundation from the
custodian of such records would be necessary for such material to be actually
introduced into evidence.

HEARSAY EVIDENCE

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Hearsay evidence refers to evidence provided "secondhand" in a court room. Hearsay


evidence is excluded from court cases under the hearsay evidence rule. This means that
hearsay evidence is inadmissible in a court of law.
When a court case is occurring, both the defendant and plaintiff present witnesses to help
the judge or jury reconstruct the events that gave rise to the litigation or criminal trial. The
accounts of the witnesses are designed to provide a more clear picture of what occurred
and to help convince the court that either the plaintiff or defendant is right and entitled to win
the case. Witnesses are presented both in criminal trials and civil trials.
There are certain limitations to what a witness can testify to. For example, expert
witnesses can testify to what they believe may have happened in a case, but they
must have sufficient qualifications to convince the court that they have the
knowledge to make such conjectures about the case. The hearsay rule is one particular
limitation on what witnesses, in general, can testify to.
Under the hearsay rule, a witness cannot testify about statements made outside of court.
Essentially, this means that he cannot testify as to what anyone said, or was thinking,
outside of the court room. The hearsay rule is set forth in Federal Rules of Evidence Article
VIII.

SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
Substantial evidence may be the legal requirement that must be met in order for a jury to
reach a verdict in a case. The evidence must substantially prove the legal elements of the
case and must be credible enough that a reasonable mind would accept it as enough to
reach a conclusion. Even if a judge or jury were able to arrive at two conflicting conclusions,
a verdict can be reached if either of the conclusions could be accepted by reasonable
persons. Evidence that is based on conjecture is not often considered substantial evidence.
A verdict that is based on speculation and not reason often will not stand.
An appellate judge can overturn or remand a verdict from a judge and jury if it is shown that
the evidence presented was not substantial. The verdicts that dont stand when reviewed by
a higher court are often the ones that are so unreasonable and based on hypothetical
information that a reasonable mind could not have reached the conclusion reached by the
judge or jury. The legal elements required to prove such cases are nonexistent, or the
inferences that a jury must draw are not based on logic, but speculation. Substantial
evidence must be solid to pass this legal requirement in most jurisdictions.
The substantial evidence standard is often applied in administrative hearings. The board or
panel is required to examine the evidence as a whole and base a decision that is consistent
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with what reasonable minds would conclude based on the same evidence. Some
jurisdictions prohibit the use of hearsay evidence, such as journals or letters, and decisions
reached on such evidence are often overturned on appeal. For example, if theres an
objection to a trademark registration matter and the United States Trademark and
Patent Office rules grant a trademark based on logical evidence, then the decision
will likely stand. The appellant would have to prove that the evidence presented was
hearsay or based merely on conjecture or speculation.
A plaintiff does not have to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to
provide substantial evidence. That is a higher standard used in criminal cases. A
similar higher standard in civil cases is the preponderance of the evidence. Courts
have ruled that substantial evidence is less than the preponderance of the evidence
or beyond a reasonable doubt, but more than a mere scintilla of the evidence
presented. The threshold is less when proving substantial evidence, but it must still
be solid evidence thats reasonable and credible.

Relevance
Posted on August 23, 2011by Misty Ewegen
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:
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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 rs.
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 its 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 isnt 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 wouldnt be relevant for the Plaintiffs attorney to ask the Officer if he is
married. His marital status has nothing to do with evaluating his conduct as a police
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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 courts 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 its admission would present an undue
waste of time, cause delay, or is needlessly cumulative or repetitive.

Substantial-Evidence Rule Law & Legal


Definition
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Substantial evidence rule is a principle that a reviewing court should uphold an


administrative body's ruling if it is supported by evidence on which the administrative body
could reasonably base its decision.
The following is an example of a caselaw on the rule:
Substantial, within the meaning of the substantial evidence rule, means that the evidence
must be of ponderable legal significance. It does not mean simply any evidence. It must be
reasonable in nature, credible, and of solid value; it must actually be substantial proof of the
essentials that the law requires in a particular case. [In re Alcala, 222 Cal. App. 3d 345

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
Circumstantial evidence is any evidence that requires some reasoning or inference
in order to prove a fact. This type of evidence is sometimes referred to as indirect
evidence, and it may have more than one explanation or lead to more than one
conclusion. In many situations, more than one piece of circumstantial evidence may
be used to draw the judge or jury to a specific conclusion. To explore this concept,
consider the circumstantial evidence definition.
Definition of Circumstantial Evidence
Noun
Proof of facts offered as evidence from which other facts may be inferred.
Origin

1730-1740

English Common Law

What is Circumstantial Evidence


Circumstantial evidence is evidence which strongly suggests something, but does
not exactly prove it. Circumstantial evidence simply helps people draw inferences
about a fact, or the events that took place. This type of evidence is, on its own,
considered to be weak or ineffective, so it is used in conjunction with direct
evidence in both criminal and civil cases. Whether or not the judge or jury makes
the intended inference has a major impact on the outcome of the case.
For example:
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Mary testifies in court that she saw Robert standing over a man with a bloody knife
in his hand. Mary did not see Robert stab the victim, so she can only testify and
describe what she saw. This circumstantial evidence is likely not enough by itself to
convict Robert, so the prosecution provides other evidence which, when added to
Marys testimony, leads the jury to the conclusion that Robert stabbed the victim.

Validity of Circumstantial Evidence


There are popular misconceptions surrounding the validity of circumstantial
evidence, as many people believe it is not as convincing as direct evidence. In
reality, circumstantial evidence is an important tool used by prosecutors to convict
people. Circumstantial evidence, which can be derived from a variety of sources,
can be used to lay a foundation of belief, and backed up by witness testimony and
direct evidence for credibility.

Examples of Circumstantial Evidence


Nearly anything can be used as circumstantial evidence, so long as it helps create a
picture of the incident or crime, leading the judge or jury to a valid conclusion. Facts
that do not necessarily prove a defendants culpability, such as prior threats made
to the victim, fingerprints found at the scene of the crime, testimony that a
neighbor saw the defendant in the neighborhood, or the fact that the defendant was
the beneficiary of the victims life insurance policy, are all circumstantial evidence.
Even in the absence of an eye witness to the crime, these pieces of evidence, when
taken together, certainly lead to the conclusion that the accused is guilty.

For example:
Mark and Bob get into a heated argument, during which Mark declares in
front of a room full of people, that he wanted to kill Bob. A week later, Bob
is found murdered in his back yard. Marks declaration is not direct
evidence that he committed the crime, but it gives police a suspect.
How an individual treated or interacted with the victim before the crime is
another point that may be used as circumstantial evidence.

For example:
Helen, one of Bobs coworkers, has been romantically obsessed with Bob for about a
year. A few months ago, she began sending him unwanted emails and text
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messages containing romantic messages, and then gifts began showing up at his
home. Bob asked Helen to stop, but she only stopped talking to him at work.
Recently, Bob told a friend that he had seen Helen at his softball games, and once
saw her following him at the mall. This information is not direct evidence that Helen
murdered Bob, but it gives police a second suspect to investigate.
In a civil lawsuit, circumstantial evidence serves the same purpose, to lead the
judge or jury to a desired conclusion.

For example:
Leo has filed a civil lawsuit against Fred, claiming that Fred backed into his car in a
parking lot, causing substantial damage. In court, Fred admits to being in the
parking lot at the same time as Leo, but denies he hit anything, and there were no
other witnesses to the incident. Leo presents photos of the parking lot, with a
diagram of how the accident occurred, and shows photos of the damage to both
vehicles, and points out the red paint transfer from his car to Leos bumper.
While none of this is direct evidence of Freds culpability in the incident, the
circumstantial evidence leads the judge to believe it is more likely than not that
there was an accident, and that it was Freds fault.

Infamous Conviction Based on Circumstantial Evidence


Scott Peterson Murder Conviction
Laci Peterson, a 27-year old mother-to-be, went missing from her Modesto,
California home on Christmas Eve 2002. Husband Scott Peterson reported Lacy
missing, telling police that she simply was nowhere to be found when he returned
from a fishing trip that day. Days and weeks went by with no suspects. Friends and
family said they didnt believe Scott would murder his wife, but he eventually
became a suspect, as he began giving police inconsistent information.
In January, police discovered that Scott had engaged in several affairs, the most
recent being with a woman named Amber Frey. Frey approached police after
learning Scott was married to the missing pregnant woman. Soon after, police taped
phone calls between Frey and Scott in hopes they would hear a confession. The only
thing they learned from the taped conversations was that Scott had planned on
taking Frey out of the country on vacation, only days after Laci went missing.
Lacis body, and the body of a fetus, were found in April of 2003, washed up on
shore in Richmond, California. This was the same shoreline where Scott reported
going fishing the day the Laci disappeared. After discovering the bodies, police
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searched Scotts truck, his boat, and his home, as well as the area where they
believed Lacis body had been dumped, but nothing turned up.
On April 18, 2003, San Diego police arrested Scott. He had altered his looks and had
belongings on him that led police to believe he would flee the country. The media
closely followed the subsequent murder trial, in which there was virtually no direct
evidence, but a long string of circumstantial evidence pointing to Scott Petersons
guilt. Such evidence included the inconsistencies in Scotts stories, his admitted
affair with Frey, the fact that he sold Lacis car soon after she disappeared, that he
had expressed an interest in selling the house right away, and a 6-inch long, dark
hair found on a pair of pliers located in his boat.
Although the defense attempted to explain away each piece of circumstantial
evidence, the jury was convinced that Scott Peterson had murdered his wife and
unborn child. Peterson received the death penalty, and awaits execution in
Californias San Quentin prison.

Related Legal Terms and Issues


Defendant A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has
been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
Trial A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of
determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a
civil matter.
Victim A person who is injured, killed, or otherwise harmed as a result of a criminal
act, accident, or other event.

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