In our last couple posts, we spoke about two important factors regarding admissibility of evidence at trial that must be considered when building a strong criminal defense case. These factors, as we noted, are relevance and reliability. As important as these factors are in scrutinizing evidence, there is yet a third factor that has to be considered as well.
This third factor is somewhat of a catch-all in the sense that it consists of multiple factors that could justify excluding evidence that is otherwise relevant and reliable. The rule is expressed in Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence and Rule 5-403 of the Maryland Rules of Evidence.
Both of these rules hold that evidence which is otherwise relevant and reliable can nevertheless be excluded from trial if the probative value of the evidence is “substantially outweighed” by the potential for prejudice, confusion of the issues, or waste of time. The federal rule lists a couple additional factors, including misleading the jury, needless presentation of cumulative evidence, and undue delay.
Exactly when these rules come into effect is not always clear from the outset, and a criminal defense attorney needs to be familiar with both the rules and their general application so that he or she is able to make objections at the proper time at trial. Failure to do so can not only lead to the admission of evidence that should not be admitted, but the loss of the opportunity to raise the issue on appeal later on, if the case should get that far.