The law is a tricky business, and for those of us who don’t know it well–or even the lawyers who do–it can be a pain in the neck. Sometimes we know for certain that something is true. Sometimes we even have definitive proof. But sometimes that definitive proof is inadmissible or deemed too far outside of bounds to be considered relevant to a case. For those of us who can’t quite wrap our heads around how something can both be proof an act was or was not committed but still be inadmissible in court, it might be important to shed some light on what the legal definition of admissible really is.
A legal dictionary simply says that evidence is admissible “if it is of such a character that the court is bound to accept it during the trial.”
Wow, isn’t that helpful?
A legally binding “Federal Rules of Evidence” further determines exactly what kind of evidence may or may not be used in a court of law, and explains and evaluates the reasons why. Many of us won’t like the primary reasons that certain kinds of evidence remain inadmissible, but here they are: if a piece of evidence causes “unjustifiable expense and delay” then it may be inadmissible. Evidence is admissible only if it helps further proceedings along, and unfortunately, pieces of evidence that aren’t cost-effective in a courtroom don’t fit the bill.
That might sound complicated, and that’s because it is. That’s why we hire lawyers in the first place. Because they’re taught to wade through a complicated legal battleground. Think of it like this: if we’re likely to argue over a piece of potential evidence’s validity in court, then it probably won’t be admissible in the first place.
For evidence to remain admissible, it needs to be both reliable and relevant. It can be demonstrative, documentary, real, or testimonial in nature. You’ve probably heard all of the common objections on TV: unfairly prejudicial, wastes time, hearsay, misleading, etc. These are examples of why evidence might be considered inadmissible in court.
Evidence that exposes a defendant’s character trait as a primary point of the case is usually deemed inadmissible in court, as is supposed expert testimony obviously not provided by an expert. Where the information came from is important as well. You won’t find a priest offering testimony describing what a defendant may have said in confession or a therapist regarding what was said in session. These are privileged sources of information that can’t be used.
Whether evidence is admissible or inadmissible is a primary reason why legal counsel is encouraged when a defendant is brought into court or charged with a serious crime. Without legal representation that is versed in the difference between what kind of evidence is relevant to the case, the court system will quickly grow fed up with a layman’s attempts. This is especially relevant in cases involving the need for a criminal defense.