Introduction to Evidence Law

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Getting Evidence Admitted (or Excluded) at Trial

Litigating a case without basic knowledge of the rules of evidence is like assembling an airplane in a pitch-black room. You may be driving divots into the metal — but once you turn the light on — you discover a worthless vessel that will not hold up, let alone take you where you want to go.

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If you are part of a pending lawsuit, and you are —

  • Representing yourself in the case; or
  • An attorney with minimal or no litigation experience; and
  • You are not familiar with how to evaluate what evidence is admissible in court; then

You are operating in the dark. And you may find that your evidence is not admissible in court — or lacks a legal foundation — and your case may never get off the ground.

Don't harm your case by waiting (until it is too late) to evaluate and resolve any evidentiary issues in your case. Instead, study and apply the principles in Introduction to Evidence Law, together with the rules of evidence in your jurisdiction.

Litigation attorneys Neer Lerner and Elliott Malone introduce you to general evidence concepts so that you can:

  • Carefully assess your case's strengths and weaknesses long before the day of trial;
  • Determine if the evidence (e.g., witness testimony, exhibits) you want to introduce is admissible; and
  • Discover how to lay a foundation for getting your evidence properly admitted at trial.

Common Evidence Law Principles and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Every jurisdiction in the United States operates under its own set of evidence rules that determine what is — or is not — admissible in court. In federal courts, the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) apply.

The vast majority of states' evidence rules mirror the FRE, but there may be important differences in your state. That’s why this video series focuses on the FRE and on common trial evidence issues.

Introduction to Evidence Law will: 

  • Lay groundwork for the most common evidence rules used in courts of law;
  • Break down and explain essential portions of the FRE line by line and word by word — using real-world, understandable examples — so you can evaluate how it pertains to the evidence; and
  • Discuss some key areas where states’ evidence rules tend to deviate from the FRE so you can be aware of potential differences

Strategies to Determine if Evidence Is Admissible or Inadmissible

Evidence — whether it is an exhibit, testimony, photo, or whatever — is only useful if you can actually get it admitted into evidence at trial so the jury can consider it. If it's not admissible — or you don't have the proper legal argument to prove its validity — the jury will most likely never see it.

To help you determine if your evidence is admissible, the video tutorials will

  • Define and explain key legal terms in simple language — and cut through the impenetrable fog of "Legalese" in evidence law;
  • Show how evidence presented at trial can be rejected for one purpose but allowed for another — with many examples to help you identify the difference; and
  • Provide many additional resources and instructions on how to evaluate if your evidence will be admitted at trial

The Test for Relevance

Relevance is a crucial factor the court considers in determining whether evidence should be excluded at trial.  The videos will explore how to determine if your evidence is relevant— so you can increase the likelihood that you could present it to the jury.

You'll discover things like:

  • What are the determining factors of relevance in the eyes of the court;
  • Seven reasons a judge might exclude your evidence — even if it is relevant to your case; and
  • How judges evaluate when to exclude evidence as “prejudicial”

Hearsay Rules

Thanks to Hollywood, hearsay is one of the least understood concepts of evidence law in the United States. Most people don't realize that the term “hearsay” covers a much broader range of statements than just words. In fact, many (even most) statements made in everyday life would fit the definition of hearsay and be inadmissible in court — unless they fall under an exclusion or exception to the hearsay rule.

Here are three things that you should take away after viewing this section:

  1. A workable definition of what hearsay means;
  2. The ability to quickly identify a hearsay issue so you can make a timely objection at trial; and
  3. Common exceptions and exclusions to the hearsay rule—that you should know well before trial.

Plus, Introduction to Evidence Law will break hearsay into bite-sized, digestible pieces to help you understand how hearsay issues come up at trial — with real-to-life examples that are easy to grasp.

Character Evidence

In everyday life, people use information about a person's character and past behavior to judge them as a person. In court, however, you may be frustrated to learn that this type of “propensity” evidence is usually inadmissible — subject to some important exceptions. The key — as elsewhere in evidence law — is to understand which exceptions apply (and when).

You'll learn:

  • The reason why a person's previous actions or “skeletons in the closet” are generally inadmissible in a court of law — with clear examples you will quickly understand;
  • When character evidence can be admissible — with side-by-side comparisons — so you can identify what may make certain evidence admissible vs. inadmissible; and
  • Other important considerations when seeking to use the character, habits, and past actions of your opponent at trial.

When Trial Witnesses Are Allowed to Express Opinions

Believe it or not, most opinion testimony by lay witnesses (non-experts) is not permitted. As a general rule, opinion testimony by law witnesses is inadmissible at trial. However, there are some very important exceptions you must know if your case is going to trial.

You'll learn:

  • Which opinions of a lay witness are generally admissible vs. inadmissible;
  • How to better identify improper questions or inadmissible opinion testimony at trial; and
  • Examples of generally admissible vs. inadmissible opinion testimony — so you can develop a clear understanding of the difference.

If you want to build a persuasive case at trial — and get your most important evidence admitted (and exclude your opponent’s most damaging evidence) — you must understand the basics of evidence law. You definitely don't want to "wing" it.

Study and apply the principles and tips in Introduction to Evidence Law and you will take a strong step towards towards effectively presenting evidence at trial to support your claims or defenses.

For more information about evidence law, check out Written Discovery: Investigating and Proving Claims and Defenses and Trial Essentials.