Criminal cases are based on evidence and the evidence presented by the prosecution must be enough to outweigh that presented by a defendant’s attorney in order to prove that person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You probably know that not everything can be admitted as evidence and when something cannot be used it is called inadmissible. But what actually makes evidence inadmissible? Here’s a simple guide to understanding the concept of admissibility in a criminal trial.
What Makes Evidence Inadmissible Vs. Admissible?
The two most important factors in determining what makes evidence inadmissible instead of admissible are whether it is 1) relevant and 2) reliable. Whether someone being tried for reckless driving was previously accused of underage drinking, for example, would likely be considered irrelevant and thus, inadmissible, because one crime is not related to the other. On the other hand, if someone being charged with reckless driving has a conviction for vehicular manslaughter, that would be considered relevant as it serves to prove the driver has been known to be careless behind the wheel (it could also be relevant in terms of sentencing as it would be considered a prior conviction). This evidence would be challenged for misleading the jury by drawing them away from the question of whether or not the defendant drove recklessly.
Evidence can also be ruled irrelevant if it is unfairly prejudicial. For example, if the prosecution tried to show photos of dead car crash victims in a reckless driving trial to show the dangers associated with driving recklessly. This would be considered unfairly prejudicial because it doesn’t address the question of whether or not the suspect broke the law, but only serves to upset the jury.
Relevance can also be questioned if it is considered to waste time. For example, while one character witness may help establish that the defendant is honest and reliable, a dozen would be irrelevant as they would waste the court’s time without adding any additional relevant information.
Challenging the Relevance of Evidence
The relevance of evidence is often debated between the prosecutor and the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer and often the judge must decide what can be considered relevant enough to be used as official evidence. For example, if an alleged assault victim with no witnesses on her behalf has been in a similar situation in the past, that might not be relevant. But if she has claimed to have been assaulted a dozen times in the past and she’s never had witnesses to back up her story, the defense might be able to argue that this shows she could be making up her story for one reason or another.
In fact, the biggest area of contention when it comes to relevancy is evidence against a defendant based on past crimes. In sex assault and domestic violence cases, the prosecution will often bring up the fact that the defendant has done this before and a conviction is unnecessary. The prosecution just needs victims to testify about prior behavior. On the defense side, the bad character of the victim is also brought up to show he or she isn’t trust worthy or has a propensity for violence.
Determining the Reliability of Evidence
When it comes to what is considered reliable for purposes of admissibility, this usually applies to witness testimony, but can also apply when it is impossible to prove the origin of a physical piece of evidence. For example, while someone’s diary can be used as evidence, if you can’t actually prove that the diary belonged to that person, it would be inadmissible. Reliability is also brought into question if the chain of custody cannot be traced from the time the evidence is discovered by the police to the time it appeared in court as this means the evidence could have been tampered with at some point.
Hearsay is the most well known type of unreliable evidence and involves a witness testifying that he heard someone say something, rather than actually having the person who made the statement testify in court. There are many exceptions to hearsay though, including when someone makes a dying declaration. Because the rules regarding reliability, particularly hearsay, are so complicated, it’s important to ask your lawyer if you have any questions regarding whether or not evidence may be considered reliable.
When evidence is inadmissible, it cannot be used against or on behalf of the defendant. Ultimately, what evidence is admitted into a trial can make or break a case, which is why it is so important to work with a top attorney who can make sure that evidence on your behalf is admissible and fight to have all questionable evidence against you excluded from trial. If you have been charged with a crime, Peter M. Liss can help you fight the charges by paying attention to what makes evidence inadmissible. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.
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