Admissible vs. Inadmissible Evidence: What You Need to Know
Popular crime TV shows and movies often glamorize and fast-track criminal trials. While you may hear the words evidence, admissible, and inadmissible, the importance of each of those terms is usually glossed over on TV. If you are facing a criminal charge, the strength of the prosecutor’s case depends on the evidence against you. However, the judge will not allow all evidence in, and challenging the admissibility of evidence is one of the best defense strategies during a criminal trial. If your attorney can successfully suppress at least a portion of the prosecutor’s evidence, then they might not be able to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This article will explain what you need to know about admissible vs. inadmissible evidence.
What Is Admissible Evidence?
Admissible evidence is evidence that a judge will allow to be presented to the trier of fact in a criminal case. The trier of fact can be the judge or a jury—but in criminal cases, it is often a jury. They are only allowed to consider evidence that is deemed admissible based on the rules of evidence, which we will discuss below. If the admissibility is challenged, the judge will apply the rules of evidence to the evidence in question and make a determination as to whether it can be admitted or not.
What Is Inadmissible Evidence?
In contrast to admissible evidence, inadmissible evidence is evidence that the parties may not introduce to a factfinder. In a criminal proceeding, the prosecutor may not present inadmissible evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt.
Types of Evidence
The term evidence refers to materials relating to the subject matter of a legal proceeding. Prosecutors proffer evidence to make the existence of certain facts more or less probable. Before diving into admissibility, it is crucial to understand the different types of evidence. There are generally four primary forms of evidence, but within those categories are potentially infinite additional types of evidence.
Testimonial evidence is, as the name suggests, testimony from a witness. Testimonial evidence is the statement of a witness who verifies a fact or facts about a case. This form of evidence can be in the form of an eyewitness, lay witness, or expert witness.
Demonstrative evidence can be photos, objects, models, displays, charts, and more. A party will use this type of evidence to support or further explain the facts they are attempting to prove. This type of evidence is used to demonstrate something to the jury. Examples include a photograph of the crime scene, cell phone data, X-rays, sound recordings, diagrams, forensic animations, graphs, drawings, and charts that summarize concepts.
Documentary evidence is any document that is pertinent to the case and introduced at trial. It is particularly important because documentary evidence is not hearsay. It is not a statement someone else said. Instead, it is tangible physical evidence.
Lastly, real evidence, otherwise known as physical evidence, is an actual physical object relating to the case. Common examples of real evidence include murder weapons, DNA, blood samples, fingerprints, and clothing.
What Makes Evidence Admissible?
Generally, the evidence must be relevant, material, and reliable to be admissible. However, even otherwise admissible evidence might not be allowed if its value is outweighed by countervailing factors such as unfair prejudice, waste of time, etc.
Relevancy is one of the most important factors when deciding the admissibility of evidence in a trial. Relevant evidence is evidence that tends to make the existence of a fact more probable or less probable than it would appear to be without that evidence.
Evidence is relevant if it is valuable to proving a matter at hand. Specifically, the evidence has to make a material fact more or less probable than it would be without it. Significantly, not all relevant evidence is admissible. It must also be reliable, material to the case, and not overly prejudicial.
Evidence is material if it can be used to establish a critical element of a case. In other words, is it important? Does one party need this evidence to prove their case?
If the offered evidence has no bearing on the subject, it is immaterial. For instance, if a murder occurred at 2:00 p.m. on Monday and there is a receipt showing the defendant was miles away at a restaurant at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, that receipt is material. On the flip side, if the receipt shows the defendant was miles away at the restaurant at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, it is probably immaterial and unimportant to the case.
Is the offered evidence reliable or competent? Competent and reliable evidence is evidence that has been generated and evaluated by qualified persons using procedures generally accepted by others in the relevant profession. The nature of the evidence provides reasonable assurance of the accuracy and reliability of the results.
If evidence is relevant, material, and reliable, it will generally be admissible.
What Makes Evidence Inadmissible?
Evidence could be inadmissible for many reasons, including the following:
- It was unlawfully obtained,
- It is unfairly prejudicial,
- It is confusing to the jury,
- Its admission would be a waste of time,
- It is privileged, or
- It is hearsay.
It is imperative to have a skilled lawyer on your side throughout any criminal proceeding. Evidence may be inadmissible. But if you fail to object to inadmissible evidence, the prosecutor could submit it to the judge or jury.
While the rules of evidence apply to criminal and civil proceedings, they are particularly crucial in criminal court. There are several common reasons for a judge to decide evidence is inadmissible.
Unlawfully Obtained Evidence
If evidence is obtained illegally, its admissibility might be challenged. For instance, evidence is generally inadmissible if the police do any of the following:
- Arrest or stop you without probable cause,
- Violate search and seizure law, or
- Fail to read you your Miranda rights before questioning you or obtaining a confession.
If the police do any of these things, any evidence gained is likely to be inadmissible.
Any evidence gained from an unlawful search or seizure is considered fruit from the poisonous tree and not admissible.
Generally, hearsay is inadmissible. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of whatever it asserts. However, there are many exceptions to the hearsay rule that may make objectionable evidence admissible. Hearsay is complicated and takes full-time law school students months to understand. Hearsay is one of the many reasons it is always best to hire an attorney when facing a criminal offense.
New Mexico Criminal Law Offices
If you or a loved one are charged with a crime in New Mexico, a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney will give you the best chance of success at trial. Evidence rules are cumbersome and complex. Knowing what evidence may be admissible vs. inadmissible is complicated. Our attorneys at the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices have over two decades of experience advocating for and defending our clients. Contact us today to schedule a free, private consultation to discuss your case.