Monday, March 17, 2014

How It's Tested: Evidence Law

Evidence law can be very complex. It's not enough to know the various concepts but in this area especially it's important to know how the concepts play off each other.

For example, let's take a simple factual situation involving a car accident. Assume that plaintiff sues defendant for injuries sustained when defendant injured plaintiff. Plaintiff claims that defendant drove through a red light and hit him as he was crossing the street. The speed limit was 45mph, and in his case-in-chief, defendant claims he was well within that limit, traveling at a constant 40mph. Plaintiff then calls as a witness a police officer who testifies that immediately after the accident, the defendant told him he was traveling 55mph at the time of the accident.

Quite a few areas of Evidence law come into play here. First it must be determined whether the statement by the police officer is admissible against defendant. Clearly the statement made to the police officer is inconsistent with the statement made during defendant's case-in-chief so that statement is admissible to impeach defendant on a prior inconsistent statement. But it still has to be determined if, in addition to admitting the statement for purposes of impeachment, the statement is admissible as substantive evidence against defendant. That's a bit tougher as prior inconsistent statements are admissible as substantive evidence if the prior statement was made under oath at a prior proceeding, but the statement by defendant that he was traveling at 55mph (ie, the prior inconsistent statement) was not made under oath at a prior proceeding. As such, it may be tempting to pick an answer choice that says the statement is admissible but only for purposes of impeachment.

But there is one more point to consider. The statement was made by defendant, and defendant is a party to the action. Certain statements are admissible as admissions by party opponents. Admissions are the the words or acts of a party-opponent offered as evidence against him. Because this prior inconsistent statement was made by defendant, a party opponent, it satisfies that exception to the rule against hearsay and will be admissible against defendant both to impeach, and as substantive evidence against him.

The best way to learn Evidence is to work through practice questions. The outlines will provide you with the foundation, but only through practicing what you've learned will you gain the necessary skills to properly apply the law.

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