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Keeping Harmful Evidence Out of Federal or State Trials

In criminal trials, the evidence that can be let in by a judge for consideration by the jury is determined by the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) and analogous sets of state evidence rules. One of the most critical rules, which is commonly applied during the pretrial back-and-forth between prosecutors and defense attorneys, is Rule 403, which allows judges to prevent certain pieces of evidence from being presented at trial. Even if the evidence is directly relevant to the charges at hand, judges are given discretion under Rule 403 to keep unduly harmful information away from jurors. Rule 403 states that judges may “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” This sets up a balancing test, with the value of a piece of evidence in proving the case weighing against the potential for a violation of the defendant’s rights to a fair and impartial trial. In Florida state courts, a nearly identical rule is employed.

A skilled defense attorney will be able to mount strong arguments against admitting potentially damaging pieces of evidence. They can try to tip the scale, by convincing a judge that the evidence is not relevant, or if it is relevant, it does not have much capacity to prove anything in the case. Then, they can highlight all of the possible ways that the evidence could unduly bias a jury. If a piece of evidence will cause a strong emotional reaction, this effect could cloud jurors’ ability to rationally consider the facts of the case. Verdicts must be based on fact, not passion, and the Rule 403 balancing test is designed to keep a trial focused on the facts. However, the test does set a difficult standard, because the unfairness of introducing a piece of evidence must substantially outweigh its value in proving a crime. It cannot merely outweigh it slightly.

A Skilled Defense Attorney Can Help Keep Evidence Out

This balancing rule gives defense attorneys who are knowledgeable, prepared, and skilled an upper hand. There are many aggressive strategies that defense counsel can pursue in order to ensure that unfair evidence is not seen by jurors, including preemptively filing a motion in limine to prevent a prosecutor from even mentioning the existence of certain evidence in front of a jury, or raising an objection in court, after prosecutors have shown their cards to a judge. A well-prepared attorney will have arguments ready at every juncture, in order to convince a judge to keep the trial fair. Strong advocacy during pretrial evidence hearings can make all the difference in your criminal case.

Enlisting the help of a defense lawyer with a solid knowledge of the mechanics of Rule 403 in both state and federal contexts is crucial to your case. Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. will advocate for your best interests at every juncture. Contact our South Florida office today at (305) 670-9919 for a free consultation on your criminal matter.

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