What is Rule 402?
Washington State Rule of Evidence 402 states that “relevant evidence is admissible unless excluded by law.” This means that any evidence that is relevant to the case at hand is generally admissible, regardless of whether it is favorable or unfavorable to the party that is offering it.
What is relevant evidence?
Relevant evidence is evidence that has a tendency to make the existence of a fact more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. For example, if a witness testifies that they saw the defendant commit a crime, that testimony is relevant because it makes it more probable that the defendant committed the crime.
What evidence is excluded under Rule 402?
Not all relevant evidence is admissible. Evidence can be excluded if it is:
- Unreliable: Evidence that is unreliable is not admissible because it is not likely to be true. For example, evidence that is hearsay (secondhand testimony) is generally not admissible because it is not reliable.
- Prejudicial: Evidence that is prejudicial is admissible if it is relevant, but it may be excluded if its probative value is outweighed by its prejudicial effect. For example, evidence of a defendant’s prior criminal record may be prejudicial because it may lead the jury to convict the defendant based on their past actions, rather than the evidence in the case at hand.
- Relevance outweighed by countervailing interests: Evidence may be excluded if its relevance is outweighed by other factors, such as the privacy interests of the parties involved or the need to protect the integrity of the judicial process.
Why is Rule 402 important?
Rule 402 is a foundational rule of evidence that allows for the admission of relevant evidence in order to ensure that the truth is discovered and that justice is served. However, the rule also recognizes that there are some limits on the admissibility of evidence, such as the need to exclude unreliable, prejudicial, or irrelevant evidence.
You can read ER 402 here: https://www.courts.wa.gov/court_rules/pdf/ER/GA_ER_04_02_00.pdf
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