C. The Evidence


At the conclusion of the parties’ opening statements, the government will begin presentation of its evidence. This presentation is usually well ordered in advance of trial with due consideration given to presenting all the facts before the jury in an orderly and, if possible, chronological fashion. The objective of the prosecutor is simply stated: to present evidence to convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The objective of defense counsel in examining these witnesses and the evidence is the opposite: to convince the jury that there is a reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt.

The American system of criminal justice is adversarial in nature because of common sense considerations. Criminals will lie to escape retribution for their misdeeds. They may also suborn perjury. Accordingly, their witnesses, if any are called, must be subject to cross-examination designed to test the reliability of their testimony. On the other hand, some policemen or prosecutors may be corrupt. Others may be incompetent. In either event, innocent people could be convicted if the government’s evidence is not subject to cross-examination and testing. Moreover, the Constitution protects all American citizens from the government per se and requires that a jury of peers pass judgment on a set of facts before an accused may be convicted of a criminal offense and potentially deprived of their liberty.

The Federal Rules of Evidence govern what evidence may be received in Federal Court. These rules essentially are a distillation of common sense and were designed primarily to ensure that only reliable evidence is presented before a jury.  The Federal Rules of Evidence specify in great detail which types of evidence are reliable and which are not.  They also specify how and when a Trial Judge may exercise his/her discretion to admit or exclude evidence.   Indeed, the chief function of the Trial Judge is to ensure that only competent, reliable evidence is presented before a jury. By ruling on evidentiary questions according to specified rules, theoretically at least, the Trial Judge can ensure that all parties receive a fair trial. In addition to ruling on questions of evidence, the Trial Judge will also control the progress of the trial. He will set the hours during which evidence will be presented and he will govern the conduct of the attorneys appearing before him. At the conclusion of all the evidence, the Trial Judge will instruct the jury on the principles of law which they must apply in order to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.

There are 68 federal rules of evidence divided among these 11 articles: I. General Provisions; II. Judicial Notice; III. Presumptions in Civil Cases; IV. Relevance and its Limits; V. Privileges; VI. Witnesses; VII. Opinions and Expert Testimony; VIII. Hearsay; IX. Authentication and Identification; X. Contents of Writings, Recordings, and Photographs; and XI. Miscellaneous Rules. Many legal treatises have been written and countless cases decided which elaborate upon the intent and application of these rules to specific facts. It is not the function of this book to elaborate upon just how these rules are applied to specific factual scenarios. Instead, it is our purpose to educate the reader as to what the rules are so that he/she will at least be familiar with the rules governing the admissibility of evidence in federal court.

Next Section: D. The Players

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