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Rutgers University, Newark School of Law
Leubsdorf, John



FALL 2011

INTRO 8/23/11

Casey Anthony case: charge is murder

· Mother didn’t report child’s disappearance (inferences: mother was covering up something/callous/knew she was missing); lied about employment and about a babysitter; partied (inferences: guilt/celebrating/appear innocent)


· Medieval law – focused on the # of witnesses

· Bentham view – trust jury to decide who is telling the truth; let the evidence in for what it’s worth


R 401: “fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action”

R 402: relevant evidence is admissible and non-relevant evid is not admissible are basic conceptions of a rational system of evid

General rule – relevant evidence is admissible. Evidence is relevant if it is rationally probative in any way (low threshold); relevance is determined by logic and experience, not legal rules. Whether a relationship exists depends on whether the relationship tends to make the existence of the fact to be proved more probably or less probable.

· Knapp v. State: where a def’s defnse was that he killed someone who had supposedly just killed someone else b/c he feared for his life; prosecution proved the alleged victim died of alcoholism and old age; def said that wasn’t relevant b/c question wasn’t whether the info was t/f, but rather whether def had heard it; ct said prosec had rt to use evidence that tended to discredit def since it showed someone in the chain of the story had lied and he couldn’t say who told him the story, thereby making it less probable

· US v. Dominguez: customs officer killed a person trying to carry $700K into USA; def argued the fact that def had a gun was prejudicial and irrelevant but ct found that evid was relevant b/c evid of def’s ownership of a gun was essential in showing he attempted to have the barrel of his gun replaced which tended to show guilt (logical connections); evidence is offered piece by piece not en masse and can be entered to prove conclusively the proposition offered (also, note that by asking his friend to take the gun for repair, the inference is that he wanted to separate himself from the gun or that he had nothing to hide)

· State v. Larson: intoxicated man allowed 5-yr old child to ride with him on a horse (behind him); prosecution presented evidence of def’s BAC, which was about 3x the legal limit to drive an automobile; def said this was irrelevant; ct said relevant b/c allowed jurors to compare his level of intoxication and apply their exper in determ larson’s level of intoxic

· Inferences have stages characterized by usually, generally, sometimes, etc. (See p. 23)


R 403: though relevant, evidence “may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by danger of confusion of issues, or misleading the jury, or by consideration of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence

In deciding whether to exclude on grounds of unfair prejudice, consideration is given to 1) the probably effectiveness or lack of eff of a limiting instruction and/or 2) the availability of other means of proof; Surprise is not a ground for exclusion

Judicial discretion over excluding/admitting evidence:

1. Promotes judicial economy by reducing appellate expend of time/energy

2. Particularized decision making based on the context of the case is requ for such decisions; therefore, rules would be the wrong approach

3. Satisfying the truth-seeking function of trial cts is better accomplished via rules allowing for the trial judge’s discretion

· US v. Noriega: drug-related charges; govt wanted to intro evidence showing unexplained wealth; def wanted to testify to the jury that he had performed $10M worth of secret wk for the USA and describe that work; ct said he could present the amt but not what he did, so def decided not to submit the evidence b/c he thought it wouldn’t be believable unless jurors knew what he had done to receive that $; ct said the probative value of the material was outweighed by the confusion of issues its admission would have caused; lower ct disagreed with supr ct on the relevance of the info to his defense

o Judge could have excl evid, admit it, admit if US agreed to release of info; wait to see what evid govt prod to prove unexpl wealth

· US v. Flitcraft: defs convicted for failing to file tax rtns and

uch tangential info might improperly persuade the jury as to the def’s guilt in the present case merely on the prior offense; congress has made it plain that all the jury needs to know is the conviction admitted by the def falls under a particular class of crimes and jury instructions are sufficient to convey that

o whether a prosecutor has the rt to present his case through witnesses and evidence: yes, prosecutor’s choice will generally survive a r403 analysis when a def seeks to force the substit of an admission for evidence creating a coherent narrative of his thoughts and actions in perpetrating the crime on trial;

· “Me too” evidence: showing employer has discriminated against others in the same way


Where one fact is relevant only if another fact is proven; judge decides whether foundation evidence is sufficient for jury reasonably to find that condition on which relevance depends has been fulfilled; i.e., so if def brings in tires and pl brings in tires both asserting the tires were the ones on the care involved in the accident, then, the relevance of that fact (the tires) is predicated on whether they were on the car

In the case of conditional relevance, the judge asks whether a reasonable jury could think so, give the other evidence in the case (not whether the preliminary fact is actually true); i.e., whether a person was actually driving a vehicle would be a question of fact for the jury to decide, not the judge

So – fact A may be irrelevant w/o fact B; i.e., if M is charged w/causing the death of X, the fact that X carried life insurance in favor of M is irrelevant unless M knew about it; or if B accepted an offer on behalf of C, then the conditional fact is whether B had authority to do so for C