Admissible evidence is any type of proof that can be brought forward to a judge or jury in a court of law. The admissibility of the evidence is based on certain legal standards and jurisdiction rules. The prosecutor and the defendant use admissible evidence to support their case.
As evidence can have a major influence on the defense against criminal charges, there can be lengthy deliberations on what evidence can be admissible in court. Disputes are common over the admissibility of evidence as each party aims to undermine the admissibility of evidence that would harm their case.
Types of Evidence
The term “evidence” can be used to describe different types of materials, including audio, video, written testimony or statements, digital evidence, and physical evidence. The four major categories of evidence include documentary, testimonial, demonstrative, and physical evidence. The type of evidence that is admissible in a criminal case depends on the specifics of the case, the laws of the state, and the authenticity of the evidence.
Admissibility of Evidence in a Criminal Case
One of the most common methods used to deny the admissibility of evidence is relevant to the case. For example, in a murder trial, the murder weapon is relevant, but the lease agreement of the apartment where the crime happened may not be relevant to the case and, therefore will not be considered admissible evidence. A piece of evidence is considered relevant if it would make the existence of material fact less or more probable. A material fact is anything that would have a legitimate influence on the case or help disprove or approve an element of the case. Here is more information about the admissibility of different categories of evidence in court.
Testimonial evidence is when a person nominated by the defendant or the prosecutor takes a stand and answers questions related to the case. There are a number of rules that apply to the admissibility of testimonial evidence. For example, a person cannot testify about statements they have heard in court. This includes statements that were not made under oath. That type of testimonial evidence would be considered hearsay and unreliable and therefore, not admissible in court.
There are circumstances where the hearsay rule can be overruled, including testimony by experts. For example, if there is a complex case that needs DNA analysis, a subject matter expert might be required to provide testimonial evidence to explain the matter in court. For the testimonial evidence of an expert to be admissible in court, the expertise of the individual must be established, and their testimony must be based on acknowledged and accepted methods within their professional community.
Documentary evidence is typically in the form of documents, such as a will, contract, or invoice. It also includes media such as photographs and other digital evidence. The admissibility of documentary evidence is subject to how it was obtained, whether it is relevant to the case, and if it can be verified that the document is authentic. It is the responsibility of the party presenting the documentary evidence to prove its authenticity.
Demonstrative evidence is any form of representation of an object. For example, x-rays of an injury, an illustration of a car accident, video animation, or charts showing data are types of demonstrative evidence. The admissibility of demonstrative evidence is often used to support, verify, or clarify the testimony of a witness. In most cases, the admissibility of the demonstrative evidence depends heavily on the admissibility of the witness. For example, suppose the demonstrative evidence is a medical report. In that case, a medical professional who is an established authority on the subject matter can be used as a foundation for the admissibility of that demonstrative evidence.
Physical evidence refers to any tangible item that plays a role or has some connection to the case. For physical evidence to be admissible in court, there are strict procedural requirements, including how the physical evidence was collected, stored, and handled. It is common for defendants to seek suppression of physical evidence based on how the physical evidence is managed.
If there are doubts over the authenticity of the physical evidence, it may not be admissible in court. This also applies to evidence that was obtained illegally. This can be a major hurdle for the prosecutor as evidence that is completely relevant to the case can be inadmissible if it was not obtained within the rules of the law.