Introduction to Evidence Law
United States v. Walton (7th Cir. 2000) p. 13
-Nature of Case: Appeal of trial court decision regarding admissibility of evidence.
-Concise Rule of Law: The trial judge is in the best situation to determine the admissibility of evidence due to his familiarity with the case, his first-hand exposure to the witnesses, and his knowledge of the context of the evidence.
I. Relevance Generally:
A. All relevant evidence admitted: Relevance is the cornerstone of the law of admissibility of evidence. For instance, FRE 402 provides that, except as otherwise provided by the Rules or by other specific enactment, “all relevant evidence is admissible…” The Rule goes on to say that “evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.”
B. Two aspects of relevance: There must exist 2 distinct links between that piece of evidence and the case:
1. Link One (probative relationship): There must be a probative relationship between the piece of evidence and the factual proposition to which the evidence is addressed. The evidence must make the factual proposition more (or less) likely than it would be without the evidence.
2. Link Two (materiality): There must be a link between the factual proposition which the evidence tends to establish, and the substantive law.
3. F.R.E. 401: “Relevant evidence means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”
C. Direct vs. Circumstantial evidence: Evidence is either direct or circumstantial.
1. Direct Evidence: Direct evidence is evidence which, if believed, resolves a matter in issue. Direct evidence is NEVER IRRELEVANT as long as it is offered to help establish a material issue.
2. Circumstantial Evidence: Circumstantial evidence is evidence which, even if believed, does not resolve the matter at issue unless additional reasoning is used to reach the proposition to which the evidence is directed. Circumstantial evidence, even if offered to prove a material fact, will nonetheless be found to be irrelevant if the evidence has no probative value, i.e., it does not affect the probability of the proposition to which it was directed.
Knapp v. State (Ind. 1907) p.17
-Nature of Case: Appeal from conviction for murder.
-Fact Summary: Knapp’s defense to a charge of murder was self-defense. He testified that he had been told that the victim had killed another man. The prosecution was allowed to prove that the victim had not cause the other death.
-Concise Rule of Law: The determination of the relevancy of a particular item of evidence rests on whether proof of that evidence would reasonably tend to hep resolve the primary issue on trial.
United States v. Dominguez (1st Cir. 1990) p.18
-Nature of Case: Criminal case of kidnapping, robbery, and murder.
-Fact Summary: A jury found Dominguez guilty of kidnapping, robbery, and murder.
-Concise Rule of Law: Evidence demonstrating ownership and barrel replacement of a gun is relevant where it has the tendency to make a murder by gunshot more probable.
State v. Larson (Mont. 1992) p.19
-Nature of Case: Appeal from a judgment convicting defendant of negligent endangerment.
-Fact Summary: After being presented with evidence of Larson’s blood alcohol content, the jury found Larson guilty of negligent endangerment.
-Concise Rule of Law: Evidence of a defendant’s blood alcohol content is relevant where it tends to show that he was criminally negligent.
II. Probative Value
Abernathy v. Superior Hardwoods, Inc.
-Nature of Case: Appeal from a jury verdict in a negligence case.
-Fact Summary: Abernathy was hit by a log loosened by Superior Hardwood’s forklift. Abernathy and his wife sued Superior Hardware and received a jury verdict based upon Superior Hardware’s negligence.
-Concise Rule of Law: A district judge is not required to allow evidence of slight probative value merely because cross-examination might expose its weakness.
United States v. McRae
-Nature of Case: Appeal of conviction for second-degree murder.
-Fact Summary: After conviction and sentencing to life in prison for the second-degree murder of his wife, McRae alleged that photographs of the death scene and of his wife, along with testimony as to his relations with other women, were admitted by the trial court in error.
-Concise Rule of Law: Relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
Old Chief v. United States
-Nature of Case: Appeal of conviction for assault with a deadly weapon and for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
-Fact Summary: Old Chief, on trial for violating 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1), which prohibits possession of a firearm by anyone with a felony conviction, sought to concede the fact of his prior conviction and prevent the government from identifying or mentioning the prior conviction aside from the fact that it existed.