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What is Inadmissible Evidence?

By Charity Delich
Updated May 16, 2024
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In order to ensure that each party to a court case is given a fair trial, a judge strives to make certain that any evidence presented in a court of law or administrative proceeding is reliable, material, and relevant to the issues at hand. Testimony, documents, and exhibits that do not meet this criteria can be declared inadmissible evidence by a judge. Inadmissible evidence is oral or tangible evidence that cannot be submitted to a judge or jury in a court case because it runs afoul of certain procedural rules.

A judge typically has broad discretion in determining whether evidence is admissible or not. Generally, he makes a decision when one of the parties to a case presents evidence at trial, or prior to trial, and the other side objects to its admissibility. Once the objection has been raised, the judge usually listens to each party’s argument on whether the evidence should be declared admissible. If the judge finds that the evidence is inadmissible, the judge or jury cannot consider it when rendering a verdict in the case. A judge’s decision can be appealed, although appellate courts often give great deference to a lower court's decision.

Inadmissible evidence usually lacks reliability, which means that it is not trustworthy. Demonstrating the reliability of evidence typically requires laying a foundation. For instance, if an expert witness has been called in a case, a lawyer may ask him questions about his background, education, and training in the area he is testifying about before asking him to give an opinion. This background testimony helps establish that the expert’s opinion is trustworthy.

If testimony, exhibits, or documents are found to be immaterial to a case, they may be deemed inadmissible evidence. In order for evidence to be material, it must be found necessary to prove a key element of the case. For example, if a lawyer attempts to show that a theft victim was diagnosed with cancer in order to glean sympathy from the jury, a judge may find such evidence immaterial to the case at hand and therefore inadmissible.

Inadmissible evidence generally lacks relevance. That is, it does not help prove or disprove any of the issues relating to the case. Sometimes a judge will exclude evidence that is relevant for other reasons. For instance, a judge may bar evidence that may be confusing to a jury, duplicative, or unfairly prejudicial to one of the parties.

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Discussion Comments

By MrMoody — On May 30, 2011

David09 - Jury members usually have to defend their positions in deliberations. So inadmissible evidence will usually not rear its ugly head—at least not out loud.

By David09 — On May 28, 2011

@everetra - I was on a jury as part of a murder trial once. We had someone give testimony evidence that the defendant objected to as being biased and overly subjective. The judge struck it from the record as inadmissible evidence under the rules of the trial.

I have to admit I had a hard time forgetting that piece of testimony when we went into deliberations. All I can say is that when you talk things out with the other members of the jury, they’ll immediately protest if you try to bring it up—so they do stick to the rules given by the judge. There’s nothing you can do about having it affect your bias however.

By everetra — On May 27, 2011

@nony - The distinction between pre trial evidence and trial evidence is an important one. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done to ensure that inadmissible evidence only comes up in pre trial and not in the courtroom. That’s because this kind of evidence takes many forms which can come up in trial.

It may involve things like testimony evidence, which of course will only show up at the trial. The jury just has to do its part to put this kind evidence out mind in deliberations.

By nony — On May 24, 2011

So if I understand correctly from this inadmissible evidence definition, such evidence can be called inadmissible in pre trial or at the trial itself. Wouldn’t barring the evidence from pre trial have more weight than barring courtroom evidence?

After all, if it’s deemed inadmissible at trial, the jury has already heard the evidence, inadmissible or not. Yes, the judge can tell the jury not to regard the evidence in deliberation, but people can be still be influenced by what they've heard.

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