Evidence Rule 401 is the foundation of the rules of evidence. It states that “relevant evidence is admissible unless its probative value is substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect.”
Relevance is a threshold requirement for the admissibility of evidence. Evidence that is not relevant is inadmissible, regardless of how reliable or important it may be.
To be relevant, evidence must have a tendency to make a fact more or less probable. In other words, the evidence must be able to help the trier of fact (the judge or jury) decide whether or not a particular fact is true.
For example, if the question is whether the defendant was in a certain place at a certain time, evidence that the defendant’s car was seen in that place at that time would be relevant. The evidence would tend to make it more probable that the defendant was in that place at that time.
Not all evidence that is relevant is admissible. Evidence that is relevant may still be inadmissible if its probative value is substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect.
Prejudice is anything that tends to sway the trier of fact’s decision in a way that is unfair to one of the parties. For example, evidence that is highly inflammatory or that is likely to inflame the passions of the jury would be considered prejudicial.
The court will weigh the probative value of the evidence against its prejudicial effect to determine whether the evidence is admissible. If the probative value is substantially outweighed by the prejudicial effect, the evidence will be excluded.
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