Admissibility of Relevant Evidence in California and Federal Courts

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The admissibility of evidence is a fundamental aspect of the legal process, ensuring that only relevant and reliable information is presented to the trier of fact. In California, the rules governing the admissibility of evidence are primarily found in section 350 of the California Evidence Code. In contrast, federal courts follow section 402 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, specifically Rule 402.

The Importance of Relevance in Criminal Defense

In the context of evidentiary rules, relevance plays a crucial role in ensuring a fair and just trial for the accused. Evidence that is not relevant to the case should be excluded, as its introduction can prejudice the defendant's rights and distort the truth.

Relevance Defined

In both California and federal courts, evidence must be relevant to be admissible. Evidence is considered relevant if it has any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

Relevance in California Courts

In California, Evidence Code section 350 governs the admissibility of relevant evidence. The statute provides that “no evidence is admissible except relevant evidence.” This establishes a stringent standard that limits the admission of evidence to that which is directly related to a fact in dispute. Here are examples of evidence that would be admissible in California criminal trials because they are relevant: 

Prior Criminal Record: In a criminal trial, the defendant's prior convictions can be admissible if they are relevant to the current charges. For instance, if a defendant is facing charges of theft, evidence of prior theft convictions may be relevant to show a pattern of behavior.

Eyewitness Testimony: Eyewitnesses who can testify to events relevant to the crime in question provide relevant evidence. This can include descriptions of the suspect's appearance, actions, or presence at the scene of the crime.

Physical Evidence: Physical evidence recovered from the crime scene, such as fingerprints or DNA, is highly relevant in criminal cases. It can link the defendant to the crime or establish a connection between the defendant and the victim.

Alibi Witnesses: Witnesses who can testify that the defendant was somewhere else at the time of the alleged crime provide relevant evidence. This can help establish an alibi and cast doubt on the defendant's involvement.

Relevance in Federal Courts

In federal criminal cases, the admissibility of evidence is governed by Rule 402 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Like California law, federal courts emphasize that “all relevant evidence is admissible.” Here are examples of evidence that would be admissible in federal criminal trials because they are relevant:

Surveillance Footage: In a federal drug trafficking case, surveillance footage showing the defendant involved in a drug transaction would be relevant evidence. It demonstrates the defendant's participation in the alleged criminal activity.

Financial Records: In a federal wire fraud case, bank records or financial transactions that support the prosecution's claim of financial misdeeds by the defendant would be relevant. These records provide a factual basis for the charges.

Co-conspirator Statements: Statements made by co-conspirators during the course of a conspiracy can be admitted as relevant evidence in federal conspiracy cases. They may help establish the existence of a criminal conspiracy and the defendant's involvement.

Limits on Relevance

While both California and federal courts adhere to the principle that relevant evidence is generally admissible, there are limits to what can be admitted. Both California and federal courts have mechanisms in place to address these concerns through California Evidence Code section 352 and Federal Rules of Evidence section 403.

If you have been charged a crime, it is critical that you discuss your case immediately with a knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut has extensive knowledge of the Evidence Code and astutely understands admissibility and relevant evidence.

For more information about the criminal justice process, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at (888) 334-6344 or (323) 464-6453.

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