Relevant Evidence Defined

Relevant Evidence

The admissibility of evidence is a cornerstone of the legal system, ensuring that only relevant and probative information is presented to courts. In both California and federal jurisdictions, relevance is a fundamental principle governing the admission of evidence. In criminal law, the admissibility of evidence is a linchpin that can make or break a case. California Evidence Code section 210 and Federal Rules of Evidence section 401 each define the concept of relevance, establish the criteria that evidence must meet to be considered admissible, and determine what evidence is relevant and admissible in a criminal trial.

Relevance Defined

Relevant evidence is governed in California by Evidence Code section 210, which states, “relevant evidence means evidence, including evidence relevant to the credibility of a witness or hearsay declarant, having any tendency in reason to prove or disprove any disputed fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action.” 

This definition highlights two key elements of relevance: first, the evidence must have a “tendency in reason” to prove or disprove a disputed fact. Second, the disputed fact must be of consequence to the outcome of the case. These elements are designed to ensure that evidence presented in court is not only logically connected to the issues at hand, but also meaningful in the context of the litigation.

Relevant evidence in the federal context is governed by Federal Rules of Evidence section 401, which states, “evidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” 

This federal definition mirrors the California approach, emphasizing the importance of evidence's capacity to affect the probability of a fact. Additionally, like California, it underscores that the fact in question must be of consequence to the case.

Examples of Relevant Evidence

In the context of California criminal law, relevant evidence might include: 

  1. Witness statements identifying the defendant at the scene of the crime.
  2. DNA or forensic evidence linking the defendant to the crime.
  3. Testimony from an expert witness regarding the defendant's mental state at the time of the offense.

In federal criminal cases, relevant evidence may encompass: 

  1. Phone records establishing the defendant's communication with co-conspirators.
  2. Financial documents demonstrating a motive for the alleged white-collar crime.
  3. Eyewitness testimonies corroborating the defendant's alibi.
  4. Video footage from a security camera showing the defendant's actions during a bank robbery.
The Significance of the Threshold of Relevance

Protecting the Accused: The requirement that evidence be relevant in order to be admissible serves as a vital safeguard against the introduction of prejudicial, inflammatory, or irrelevant evidence that could unfairly sway a jury or deprive the accused of a fair trial. By ensuring that only evidence directly tied to the charges is admitted, the legal system upholds the principles of justice and fairness.

Preserving Due Process: Relevance plays a pivotal role in preserving the due process rights of the accused. Irrelevant evidence can introduce confusion, waste valuable court time, and divert attention from the central issues of a case.  The rule that evidence must be relevant ensures that a defendant receives a fair and impartial trial, free from distractions or undue prejudice.

Protecting Against a Rigorous Prosecution: The threshold of relevance also prevents the prosecution from presenting evidence that may seem persuasive but lacks a genuine connection to the charges at hand. By adhering to the strict standards of relevance, a skilled criminal defense attorney can help ensure that the burden of proof remains squarely on the prosecution.

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 understands the critical distinctions of 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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