What Are the Rules of Evidence?

What Are the Rules of Evidence?
Chicago Business Litigation Lawyers

In the complex world of legal proceedings, the rules of evidence play a crucial role in determining the outcome of a case. The federal rules of evidence can be challenging to wrap your mind around, but understanding these rules is fundamental for anyone involved in the legal process. The following article explores the intricacies of evidence rules, their limitations, and how they have evolved over time.  By simply understanding several select rules, you can gain deeper insight into the strength of your case.

Introduction Of Evidence: Why Evidence Rules Are Important To Understand

The rules of evidence are an essential part of any legal claim whether it involves a claim of breach of contract or legal malpractice. Understanding how evidence works can help you understand the strength of your legal claim and what could bolster its chance of success.

For example: 

  • Some evidence is considered admissible, while other evidence is inadmissible in a court of law.
  • Some inadmissible evidence may be admissible in the case of specific exceptions.
  • Some evidence carries greater weight in a lawsuit.

Understanding the federal rules of evidence can help you focus on the critical aspects of your legal case.

The Federal Rules of Evidence, which took effect on July 1, 1973, are a set of guidelines designed to regulate the admissibility of evidence in court proceedings, both civil and criminal. These rules aim to make the interrogation and presentation of evidence effective for determining the truth, prevent unnecessary expenditure of time, and protect witnesses from harassment or undue embarrassment.

The Federal Rules of Evidence apply to actions, cases, and proceedings brought after their enactment, and can also be applied to pending cases where it would not cause injustice.

Personal or Family History

Personal or family history can play a crucial role in establishing matters of personal or family history, such as birth, marriage, divorce, and death. It can also be utilized to verify identity or ownership of property.

To testify about personal or family history, a witness must possess personal knowledge of the matter. This rule is subject to 18.703. This provision covers opinion testimony by expert witnesses.

Present Sense Impression

Present sense impression is an exception to the hearsay rule, allowing the admission of a statement that describes or explains an event or condition made while or shortly after the declarant witnessed it. This exception is significant in court cases as it provides reliable evidence of an event as it was experienced at the time it occurred.

It is a valuable tool for lawyers and judges to use in order to determine the truth of the case. 

Witness Testimony and Prior Statements

Witness testimony and prior statements are of paramount importance in legal cases, as they can provide evidence that can corroborate or contradict other evidence, establish facts, and aid in assessing the credibility of witnesses.

Extrinsic evidence of a prior inconsistent statement by a witness cannot be taken into consideration unless the witness is given the chance to explain or deny it. The opposing party should also be allowed to ask questions on the matter. However, in certain circumstances, justice may require otherwise.

Prior Inconsistent Statement

A prior inconsistent statement is a statement made by a witness that is not in agreement with a witness’s prior statement made by the same witness at a different time or in a different location. Such statements may be employed to cast doubt on the reliability of a witness and may be accepted as substantive evidence provided that certain criteria are fulfilled.

These criteria encompass that the statement must be pertinent, material, and reliable.

Diligent Search Failed

A “diligent search failed” is a certification or testimony attesting to the fact that a thorough search was conducted and the record or entry was not located. This can be utilized as evidence in the form of a certification or testimony that a comprehensive search was conducted and the record or entry was not located.

It is important to note that a “diligent search failed” is not a “diligent search failed”.

What Are The Rules Of Evidence? 

There are 68 federal rules of evidence structured under 11 articles. It would take numerous posts to sufficiently cover all the laws of evidence in detail, but not every evidentiary rule is as crucial for you to understand initially. 

Some of the more critical rules of evidence can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Real evidence
  • Demonstrative evidence
  • Documentary evidence
  • Testimonial evidence
  • The hearsay statement exception for admissibility

Understanding these three categories of evidence can help you gauge the strength of your case.

Evidence With Substantive Admissibility

In trials, there are two main types of evidence: substantive and demonstrative. Demonstrative evidence is not directly relevant, while substantive evidence is. Substantive evidence supports an issue of fact rather than procedural or collateral issues. Substantive evidence helps to prove the necessary elements of a case directly. 

Some examples of substantive evidence could include:

  • Corporate reports 
  • Accounting records
  • Security footage
  • Bank statements

While substantive evidence is generally more valuable, sometimes, demonstrative evidence is just as necessary in a case. Not all evidence is weighted equally. 

Four types of evidence to understand are:

  • Real evidence: tangible items
  • Demonstrative evidence: models
  • Documentary evidence: written models
  • Testimonial evidence: verbal statements

The evidence your side puts forward in court should support your most powerful arguments. A focused approach that centers on your main assertions is more effective than slinging various sweeping allegations. If your evidence is sufficiently strong, your case may be settled before entering a courtroom — particularly if you have what amounts to prima facie evidence.

Real Evidence: Tangible Items

Real evidence is another term for substantive evidence. It consists of real, tangible, physical items that may be used to prove or disprove a case. Real, tangible evidence is directly relevant to your case. The court can examine this evidence and come to a conclusion about a fact under consideration.

To be admissible at trial, real evidence must be:

  • Material, meaning it tangibly proves a disputed fact
  • Relevant, meaning it has a reasonable likelihood of helping to prove or disprove an issue of fact
  • Competent, meaning it is traditionally accepted as reliable evidence

Real evidence is generally given more weight than other evidence.

Demonstrative: Models

As the name implies, demonstrative models offer a demonstration of the evidence. It is used to explain, clarify, and offer a visual representation. Demonstrative evidence is often used to illustrate a witness's testimony. Demonstrative models may include:

  • Charts that depict financial injury
  • Handwriting samples
  • Maps and diagrams of a crime scene
  • Forensic animations

Demonstrative evidence should fairly and accurately reflect the witness's testimony and support the facts the party is trying to prove. Demonstrative evidence can help enhance witness testimony. Jurors may better understand the witness's statement when they encounter a corresponding demonstrative model.

Documentary: Written Models

Documentary evidence takes the form of a recorded document. This written evidence is used to prove or disprove an allegation. Documentary evidence must typically be genuine, relevant, and original to be admissible — counsel often agree to use copies of relevant documents. 

Documentary evidence may include witnessed and written agreements, recorded events, and communications. Examples of documentary evidence may include:

  • Shareholder agreements
  • Employment contracts
  • Memoranda reports
  • Communications, like emails and letters
  • Resumes 
  • Records, including public records, medical records, judicial records, and other official records

Courts and juries may weigh documentary evidence more heavily than testimonial evidence offered by witnesses.

Testimonial: Verbal Statements

Testimonial evidence takes the form of verbal statements. These are most often seen as sworn witness testimonies. These testimonies may come from expert witnesses or eyewitnesses to a fact in question. The witness swears under oath and delivers their testimony to the court.

Testimony may involve the witness's opinion on a matter at issue. However, their opinion is only admissible if it has a proper foundation:

  • The witness's opinion is reasonably based on their perception, and 
  • The witness's opinion is helpful in understanding the facts of the case or the witness's testimony

Additionally, a witness's opinion may be admissible if:

  • The witness is classified as an expert witness who has specialized knowledge of the evidence presented at the trial

Examples of testimonial evidence include:

  • Statement of identification
  • Expert opinion evidence
  • Statement of declarant

The Hearsay Statement Exception For Admissibility

One law of evidence, Rule 803, is titled Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay, and it governs the admissibility of declarations. Hearsay evidence is a statement made out of court that is admitted to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

This means that hearsay is:

  • statement that was spoken or written, like an email, and 
  • Spoken or created out of court, "in the real world," and
  • Admitted or presented to the court, and which
  • Proves the truth of the matter asserted, meaning it is presented to prove a fact contained within the statement

An example of when a statement is admissible or inadmissible hearsay follows:

Alan saw someone commit bank fraud. Later, Alan tells Bob that the person he saw was Cheryl. 

  • Bob offers Alan's statement up in court ⇢ Inadmissible hearsay. 
  • Alan gives the same statement to police in a witness statement that is offered as evidence in court by the prosecution ⇢ The witness statement is inadmissible hearsay.
  • Alan swears an oath in court and gives oral testimony that he saw Cheryl commit bank fraud ⇢ Admissable, not hearsay.

The general rule is that hearsay is not admissible. However, there are more than 20 exceptions to the Hearsay Rule, including:

  1. Present sense impression
  2. Excited utterance
  3. Existing mental, emotional, or physical conditions, which excludes a statement of memory and a statement of intent
  4. Statements for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment
  5. An admission against interest

Further there are other situations where  a statement may appear to be hearsay, but is not, for example, if it is not offered for its truth. As you can see the rules of evidence can be confusing to a non-lawyer.  Speaking with an attorney who specializes in evidentiary rules may be advisable. It is important to understand if the evidence you believe is important to your case is admissible. 

Hearsay Exceptions and Other Law Enforcement Personnel

Hearsay exceptions are of great importance as they enable certain out-of-court statements to be accepted as evidence in court, which can be beneficial in cases where the original speaker is not present or cannot be located. Various hearsay exceptions applicable to law enforcement personnel include the public records exception, the business records exception, the present sense impression exception, the excited utterance exception, and the dying declaration exception.

Hearsay exceptions can have a considerable influence on court cases, as they enable certain out-of-court declarations to be accepted as proof, which can be advantageous in cases where the initial speaker is inaccessible or cannot be found.

Supreme Court Rulings

The Supreme Court rulings are of great importance as they are able to set precedents and establish guidelines for the utilization of evidence in legal proceedings, and their decisions can modify the interpretation of laws or declare them unconstitutional.

Qualified Witness

A qualified witness is one who possesses the requisite mental acuity to perceive, remember, and relate the incident they have witnessed. A qualified witness is of great importance in providing reliable and trustworthy testimony in court, and they may possess specialized knowledge or expertise that is pertinent to the case.

The criteria for a competent witness include possessing the requisite mental capacity to perceive, remember, and narrate the incident they have observed.

Navigating the Evidence Process: Tips and Strategies

Navigating the evidence process can be a complex and daunting task, but with the right approach and understanding of the rules, it can be made more manageable. First, it is crucial to ensure that all evidence is accurately documented and photographed, as this will guarantee its acceptability in court.

Second, guaranteeing the secure handling of the evidence is essential to prevent tampering or destruction. This necessitates that the evidence is stored in a secure location, correctly labeled and tracked, and not accessible to unauthorized persons.

When assessing the eligibility of electronic evidence, it is imperative to evaluate the veracity of the evidence, the dependability of the source, and the pertinence of the evidence to the case.

Speak With A Professional In Evidence Law

If you are gathering evidence for use in an upcoming legal claim, speaking with a highly knowledgeable evidence attorney may help improve the outcome of your case. Contact King & Jones's evidence legal team to arrange your consultation and get your questions answered.