Relevance the Single Most Important Rule of Evidence
Written by Greg on June 3, 2013
>Recently in a pretrial ruling in the George Zimmerman trial in Florida a judge issued several pretrial rulings limiting some evidence that the defense wished to introduce into the trial of the case. Each state provides their own rules of evidence and relevancy is a rule that is one of the most important rules of evidence in Texas and the nation.
Rule number 401 of the Texas Rules Of Evidence provides a definition in Texas of relevant evidence:
“Relevant evidence” means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.
The Rules go on to provide in Rule 402 that all relevant evidence is admissible, except otherwise provided by the Constitution, statute, the rules of evidence or other rules. Evidence that is not relevant is inadmissible.
There is a two-pronged test for evidence to be admissible as relevant, first, the evidence must be relevant and second it must be material – in other words important to the essence of the case. Whole treatises and been written on the definition of relevancy and admissibility in civil and criminal actions. Most of the issues in relevancy occur when an indirect fact is asserted to circumstantially proves something in the case.
The judge in the George Zimmerman trial reportedly ruled that certain evidence such as suspension from school, prior marijuana use and text messages were not admissible in that criminal action. While the ruling itself was not available for review, it appears that relevancy was at least part of the equation in the legal analysis about admissibility by the judge.
In Texas, Rule 403 provides that in some instances relevant evidence can be excluded based upon special grounds. In certain instances even though evidence may be relevant if the judge finds that the probative value is substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice confusion of the issues or misleading the jury among other reasons the court can properly exclude the evidence.
Rule 404 the Texas Rules Of Evidence provides that character evidence is not admissible to prove conduct. While there are exceptions to the character evidence rule, generally, evidence is not admissible to prove an action based upon prior occasions except as provided in rule. Rule Number 404 is used to prevent undue prejudice and distraction from the central issues in the case. Case law regarding relevance has developed by trial lawyers and judges over many years and the intention is to streamline a case to allow what is necessary to prove or rebut and element of a cause of action and preclude matters which are by and large collateral to the elements of proof.
When one reads a news report of a judge’s ruling it is important to understand that a court has a responsibility to all parties to make sure that the evidence is relevant, to focus the trial upon the most important evidence necessary for a party to prevail. Limiting collateral issues by exclusion or irrelevant evidence is part of that process.
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