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Basic Rules of Evidence

BASIC RULES OF EVIDENCEAny evidence offered by a party at trial is subject to certain Rules of Evidence, which dictate whether or not the evidence may be considered by the decision maker. The Federal Rules of Evidence establish admissibility rules for evidence in federal court. Each of the states has its own rules of evidence, although for the most part these shadow fairly closely the federal rules.


Evidence must be relevant to the issue at hand. Relevancy must be shown at two levels before evidence is admitted: the evidence must be LOGICALLY relevant and LEGALLY relevant.

Evidence is logically relevant if it relates to the issues being argued in the trial and tends to prove the contentions of the party offering the evidence. Both aspects must be met for evidence to be considered for admission by the court; this requirement saves time by preventing the court, jury, and parties from having to consider information that is not particularly helpful (that does not shed light on the case and/or does not help the party offering the evidence prove their side of the argument).

Legal relevance requires that there be a legal foundation for allowing the evidence to be included in the trial. In general, all relevant evidence is admissible unless it falls under an exception. However, much evidence that seems as though it would be particularly useful to a party's case will not be allowed for lack of legal relevance. The most common example of evidence that is logically relevant but not legally relevant, and thus not admissible, is hearsay (discussed below).


Some evidence must be excluded because the information it presents is privileged. Privileged information is that which is considered so private that it is inappropriate to allow it to be generally released. Examples of privileged information include private communications between spouses, doctor-patient communications (including psychiatrists), attorney-client communications, and conversations between people and their religious or spiritual advisors.

However, privilege is not absolute. There are many exceptions that have developed over the years because our courts have determined that the necessity of getting to the truth outweighs the reasoning behind the granting of privilege. If privilege is relevant in your particular case, be sure to check on possible exceptions that may exist.


Witnesses who are laypeople may offer opinion testimony. However, the rules of evidence require offered opinions to be based on first-hand knowledge or perception. In other words, opinions of a general opinion of a party's character or testimony regarding perceptions of people other than the witness him- or herself are not acceptable.

Expert Testimony

Expert testimony can be very valuable because professionals are likely to be viewed as particularly trustworthy by a jury. However, this is true only if the expert projects a professional, knowledgeable demeanor; an expert who is disheveled, confused, or unable to speak clearly on the topic regarding which he/she proposes to be an expert will probably be more harmful than helpful to the party offering his/her testimony.

Expert witnesses must be qualified as experts, although the term "expert" is fairly broad. A witness may be considered an expert in his/her field by virtue of education, experience, profession, or some specialized knowledge. A degree of formal designation is not required for one to be considered an expert: for example, a long-time mechanic may be considered an expert on automobiles.


Hearsay is the trickiest part of the evidentiary aspect of a trial. Hearsay is evidence that is offered for the truth it asserts, but is not admissible because it represents information from a source too far removed from the trial itself. For example, a witness may testify to something he/she experienced personally; however testimony regarding what a neighbor told the witness the neighbor saw is hearsay and is not admissible.

There are many rules regarding hearsay and many exceptions to those rules. If any evidence a party wishes to offer is not clearly first-hand information with a readily-ascertainable source, the rules should be carefully reviewed to ensure that an offer of the evidence is not in violation of the applicable rules of evidence.

Physical Evidence

Photographs, records, graphs, charts, maps, and so on are all considered documentary evidence. In contrast, physical evidence is an actual, tangible object offered as illustration of a fact presented by a party. For example, a diagram or photograph of a malfunctioning steering wheel is documentary evidence; the actual steering wheel involved in a given accident is physical evidence.

Physical evidence must be carefully authenticated: that is, there must be corroborative proof of some sort, usually testimony of someone familiar with the physical evidence, to identify the evidence as what the party alleges it is and in the same condition as when the physical object was involved in the occurrence that led to the controversy at hand. Authentication and identification can be accomplished either through the testimony of an expert familiar with physical objects of the variety offered into evidence or the testimony of a layperson familiar with the particular object.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------If you are a business owner get listed at Best Legal Site, part of Localwin Network.

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