Exclusion of Relevant Evidence in Criminal Trials

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One critical aspect of the criminal process involves determining when relevant evidence should be excluded and deemed inadmissible. Both California Evidence Code section 352 and Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 403 provide mechanisms for the exclusion of evidence that, while relevant, may have a prejudicial effect that outweighs its probative value.

Balancing Act: Relevance vs. Prejudice

California Evidence Code section 352 and Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 403 reflect a delicate balancing act that judges must perform when considering the admissibility of evidence. While relevant evidence is generally admissible, there are situations where the potential for prejudice, confusion, or unfair surprise may outweigh its probative value.

California Evidence Code Section 352

Section 352 provides that “the court, in its discretion, may exclude evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the probability that its admission will (a) necessitate undue consumption of time or (b) create substantial danger of undue prejudice, of confusing the issues, or of misleading the jury.” Below are some examples where otherwise relevant evidence may be excluded.

Prior Criminal Convictions

In a robbery trial, the prosecution wants to introduce evidence of the defendant’s prior convictions for unrelated offenses, such as drug possession and assault. While these prior convictions may be relevant to impeach the defendant’s credibility, the probative value of these convictions is substantially outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice that the jury will think the defendant is just a criminal and therefore committed the instant robbery. This objection could lead to these prior convictions being excluded.

Gruesome Crime Scene Photos

In a murder trial, the prosecution wants to introduce graphic and gruesome crime scene photographs that depict the victim’s body in a disturbing state. While these photos may be relevant to establish the cause of death, their admission could create a substantial danger of undue prejudice by inflaming the emotions of the jury. This objection could lead to these photos being excluded or their use limited.

Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 403

Rule 403 is analogous to California Evidence Code Section 352 and provides that “the court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Below are some examples where otherwise relevant evidence may be excluded.

Hearsay Statements

The prosecution intends to present hearsay statements made by a witness who is unavailable to testify at a federal drug possession trial. The statements are relevant to establish the defendant's guilt. An objection that the admission of these statements would create a substantial danger of unfair prejudice, as the defendant cannot cross-examine the unavailable witness, might be sustained under Rule 403 and lead to the exclusion of those hearsay statements.

Cumulative Evidence

The prosecution wants to call three separate expert witnesses to analyze the defendant’s bank statements in a federal tax evasion trial. All of the witnesses will testify identically. An objection that the testimony of the three witnesses is cumulative and would waste time during the trial may be sustained under Rule 403 and lead to the prosecution only being able to call one or two of the witnesses to the stand.  

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 vehemently protects his client’s rights against undue prejudice by strategically objecting.

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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