By Sholdon Daniels
If you're just starting your journey as a criminal defense lawyer in Texas, you'll need to have a solid grasp of the rules and principles that govern evidence. I remember when I was a new lawyer, and all the anxiety I would have in court trying to remember all the rules of evidence in my head. The news is that the more you practice in court and become familiar with the practical application of each rule, invoking them will become like second nature to you. In this post, I'll break down the key rules related to relevance, character evidence, and more, and then I'll discuss how these rules apply in real-life legal situations.
Relevance (Rules 401-402): For evidence to be considered relevant, it must:
(a) have a tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and
(b) the fact must be of consequence in determining the action. Relevant evidence is generally admissible, while irrelevant evidence is not.
Excluding Relevant Evidence (Rule 403): Sometimes, relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value (how helpful it is in proving a fact) is substantially outweighed by:
the risk of unfair prejudice,
misleading the jury,
undue delay, or
needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
Character Evidence (Rules 404-405): Character evidence refers to information about a person's character traits. Generally, it's not admissible to prove that someone acted in accordance with their character on a specific occasion. However, there are exceptions, such as when a defendant in a criminal case offers evidence of their own pertinent trait or when evidence of a victim's pertinent trait is offered.
Habit and Routine Practice (Rule 406): Evidence of a person's habit or an organization's routine practice can be admitted to show that they acted consistently with that habit or routine on a particular occasion.
Compromise Offers and Negotiations (Rule 408): Evidence of offers to compromise or statements made during compromise negotiations are not admissible to prove or disprove the validity or amount of a disputed claim. However, such evidence can be admitted for other purposes, like proving bias or negating a contention of undue delay.
Offers to Pay Medical Expenses (Rule 409): Evidence of offering to pay for medical expenses resulting from an injury is not admissible to prove liability for that injury.
Pleas, Plea Discussions, and Related Statements (Rule 410): In both civil and criminal cases, certain types of pleas, plea discussions, and related statements are not admissible against the defendant who made the plea or participated in the discussions.
Liability Insurance (Rule 411): Evidence of whether a person was insured against liability is not admissible to prove negligence or wrongful action but can be admitted for other purposes, like proving bias or agency.
Evidence of Previous Sexual Conduct (Rule 412): In prosecutions for sexual assault or related offenses, evidence of a victim's past sexual behavior is generally not admissible, with a few exceptions.
Applying the Rules in Practice:
As a criminal defense lawyer, understanding how these rules function in the context of a trial is crucial. For example, if you're defending someone accused of assault, you might want to introduce evidence of the victim's violent character to show that your client acted in self-defense. However, you must be cautious not to introduce character evidence that is not admissible under the rules.
Similarly, understanding when to object to inadmissible evidence and how to argue for the exclusion of prejudicial evidence under Rule 403 is key to protecting your client's rights.
As you gain experience and familiarize yourself with these rules, you'll be better equipped to build strong defense strategies and effectively represent your clients in court. You can always reach out to Attorney Sholdon Daniels if you need assistance handling a criminal matter. Just call 1-844-SHOLDON to reach me.