Every lawsuit revolves around evidence, which is used to prove the contentions of the respective parties involved in a lawsuit. Evidence may be presented through witness testimony, or through EXHIBITSâ€”tangible, physical representations of proof of facts asserted by a party.
Exhibits can be anything from financial records to police reports, photographs to pie charts. What type of exhibit will be most effective depends in large part on the type of lawsuit at issue, and there are rules regarding exhibits that must be followed precisely in order for exhibits to be admitted for consideration during trial. Note that jurisdictions vary regarding the procedure for incorporating exhibits into trial, so rules specific to a given court must be ascertained in advance.
Each party must submit to the clerk of the applicable court, within the time frame required by the court, a list of exhibits that he/she intends to offer in support of his/her position. A copy of this list is also required to be sent to the opposing party. The legal system is not fond of surprises, so if exhibits are added or changed prior to the commencement of trial, the opposing party must be notified of such additions and changes.
A court will usually have available a standard form on which a party lists their exhibit information. This information typically includes the partyâ€™s name and contact information (and that of the partyâ€™s attorney, if applicable), the label (for example, a number or letter) assigned to the exhibit, and a brief description of the exhibit. There will also be sections on the form for court use, including a place for the clerk of the court to sign acknowledgement of receipt of the exhibit list.
Form of Exhibits
Courts often have a list of requirements that exhibits must meet to be acceptable for trial. Such requirements differ, so it is best to contact the clerk of the applicable court for specific information.
Regardless of the specific court requirements, all exhibits should be neatly prepared and well-organized. Courts favor ordered, legible, easy-to-understand exhibits, and juries likewise are more likely to favor a well-presented exhibit that obviously was given careful attention than a haphazard, thrown-together mess.
Parties should ensure that exhibits are clear in what evidence they are trying to establish. It is important to avoid too much extraneous information that can serve only to confuse the decisionmaker and potentially irritate anyone who is viewing the exhibit in an effort to extract specific information important to the case at hand.
Types of Exhibits
Exhibits can be presented in almost infinite forms. Outlined here are a few of the more common types of exhibits, and suggestions for making them as useful as possible.
Photographs are particularly helpful in jury trials because they are simple to understand and because the jury can immediately see the fact that is being established, without having to wade through words or numbers. Photographs should be as clear as possible, and should be enlarged or focused as needed to eliminate excess information that could confuse or distract the viewer.
Submitting a photograph as an exhibit requires that the submitting party establish the accuracy of the representation. Accuracy is established most commonly through the testimony of a witness familiar with the scene. This does NOT mean that a witness must have actually been present at the scene in the photograph at the time of the occurrence at issue; only that the witness is able to say credibly that the photograph accurately depicts the location.
As an example, consider a car accident: plaintiff may desire to show that defendant ran a stop sign, and offers as an exhibit a photograph of the intersection at which the accident occurred. A witness such as a homeowner near the intersection can corroborate the accuracy of the photograph without having been present at the intersection when the accident occurredâ€”it is sufficient for the witness to testify that the stop sign is indeed located where it is depicted in the offered photograph.
Graphs and Charts
Graphs and charts are frequently helpful as exhibits to demonstrate trends and other numerical statistics. The problem with such representations is that not everyone is savvy enough with regard to mathematics and statistics to interpret them correctly. It is thus important that what a given graph or chart signifies is clearly explained to a jury to ensure there is no confusion. The advantage of a graphical representation is that many people have an easier time comprehending such a visual illustration than they do interpreting the pure numerical values that are actually represented.
Many different kinds of records can be used as exhibits. Some of the possibilities include:
- Financial records and receipts
- Personal correspondence and written memoranda
- Audio or visual recordings
- Business records and timesheets
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