Before you graduate law school, it is important to know what kind of law you want to practice. There are numerous kinds of law, countless claims, and an endless array of clientele. You also only get three years in law school to figure out what you might be good at. This is further complicated when you have to meet certain requirements to graduate and you take certain classes in preparation for the bar. So what is law student supposed to do? Once you are finished learning the basics of the law in your 1L year, you have the chance to get your feet wet in other specific types of law. One of my courses in my 2L year was Evidence. Here is a quick overview of this course so you have a general understanding of evidence before you take it.
Evidence is a very important class for all law students. Typically, although not always, it is a class that is required for law students to take. Evidence is also a very important class for the bar exam as you will be tested on it in some form. However, it is an excellent class regardless of whether or not you plan on going into litigation. You still need to understand how to make what you are doing for your clients admissible in court so that you can prove what your clients agreed to, etc. Evidence teaches you the fundamental rules for trial and gives you an understanding on what can and cannot be said or done at trial. This course explains the federal rules of evidence but it gives you a basic framework for the trial process, admitting evidence, excluding evidence, appeals, expert testimony and privileges. This class is one of the most practical courses you can take.
Evidence gives you a great crash course to the trial process. There are several steps to a trial. Before a trial can even begin, criminal and civil cases have to go through the pre-litigation steps of filing, discovery/investigation, and the information-gathering stages. After this period, the steps to trial begin. First there is jury selection, which you may have learned about in civil procedure. After a jury is selected, both parties give their opening statements in which they explain what the evidence will show and create a road map to their case. Next is the presentation of proof. The party with the burden of persuasion goes first and brings their witnesses and present evidence on their case in chief. During the case in chief, the party gives a direct examination of their witnesses. On their case in rebuttal when the opposing side presents their evidence, the party will give a cross examination of the adverse party’s witnesses in order to rebut their evidence. Following the presentation of proof, there are trial motions and the closing arguments. Finally, the jury instruction is given and the jury deliberates (if a jury trial) or the judge decides the case (bench trial).
In order for evidence to be admitted, you must first ask if it is relevant. Relevance is relational and only carries meaning in the context of something else. The context is determined based on substantive law and issues that parties raise. The test for relevant evidence is if it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence and the fact is of consequence in determining the action. As such, evidence should only be admitted if it is both relevant and material. However, even if something is relevant to the matter, it does not mean it will be admitted. If evidence falls under the federal rule of evidence 403 then relevant evidence will be excluded. The test for excluding relevant evidence is only if the probative value is substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.
Another major topic in evidence is what’s known as character evidence. Character has great evidential significance because specific inclinations are not only descriptive but predictive, suggesting probable patterns of behavior and tell us something about the likelihood that a person would or would not do certain acts. However, the law punishes you for what you do and not who you are. Thus, there are rules against using character evidence for proving someone is a good or bad person. Character evidence cannot be used to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with a character or trait. However, as everything there are some exceptions. There is no bar for character evidence when it is offered for reasons other than to prove conduct on a particular occasion. There are also some specific exceptions in the rules as well.
Hearsay and Exceptions
The bulk of most evidence course revolves around hearsay. This can be explained for numerous reasons. First, hearsay itself is very confusing. Hearsay is defined as a statement that the declarant does not make while testifying at the current trial or hearing that a party offers in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Basically, it is an out of court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Even this definition causes many practising attorneys struggle with what is hearsay and what is not. Not only this, there are several exceptions to the hearsay rule, some of which classify what may be normally considered hearsay as “not-hearsay”. If you take this course you will learn more about the specific exceptions and rules relating to hearsay.
This is a quick overview of Evidence, so some professors or universities may organize the course differently. However, this snapshot should give you a general understanding on what to expect from evidence. Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to successfully navigate through this upperclassmen course.
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