Trials are dynamic events and no two are the same, even on the same or similar issues between the same parties. To have a fair and accurate trial free of most types of evidence that can misdirect a court, there are four key rules of evidence parties and witnesses struggle to follow as sometimes they seem counter-intuitive. These are addressed in this blog post to help you put your best foot forward at trial.
The first is hearsay. Unless the matter is what one “party” (not other witness) has said to the other, statements or testimony about what someone else said is hearsay. In most cases, hearsay is inadmissible. For example, a witness cannot testify, little Charlie (a child, for instance of the parties in a divorce, said “___________”).
The second is equally unfamiliar to most people—first-hand knowledge of an event. While it is generally the case there are many things we know without observing, the rule is a person must have first-hand knowledge about specific facts of a case. Trial courts offer some leeway in matters that are generally known, such as labor day is a national holiday that celebrates America’s workers.
Third, texts and emails are a new frontier in documents (different from testimony above) admitted in Court. Generally, unless they are between the parties, or a party and a witness, they are not admissible. However, parts of a text that do not fit within this scope may be redacted (blacked out) to be admitted, unless this skews meaning. Trial court judges are given a great discretion to decide to admit or excluded exhibits.
Fourth, police reports are generally admissible if they have a statement of the record-keeper. This is from the person who maintains official records indicating they have reviewed the document and it is kept in the course of business and is accurate. However, if a police report contains a statement of a non-party it may be excluded for hearsay (what someone else said). The rule is more strictly enforced in criminal cases.
We hope this blog post helps you understand a little bit about how a court works. Without these rules, a party could say anything that would not be subject to penalty of perjury or alter a document in some way or use one unknown to them that could result in miscarriage of justice. This blog is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle criminal and civil cases throughout the State of Indiana. This blog is not a solicitation for legal services.