The law of evidence governs how parties, judges, and juries offer and then evaluate the various forms of proof at trial. In some ways, evidence is an extension of civil and criminal procedure. Generally, evidence law establishes a group of limitations that courts enforce against attorneys in an attempt to control the various events that the trial process presents in an adversarial setting. There are many arguments in favor of evidence law; here are five of the most common ones:
- To ameliorate pervasive mistrust of juries
- To further legal or social policies relating to a matter being litigated
- To further substantive policies unrelated to the matter in suit
- To create conditions to receive the most accurate facts in trials
- To manage the scope and duration of trials
In the United States, the federal courts must follow the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE); state courts generally follow their own rules, which are generally imposed by the various state legislatures upon their respective state courts. The FRE is the most influential body of American evidence law. The FRE encompasses the majority of the laws of evidence in 68 brief sections. Its language is accessible, easy to read, and mostly free of technical jargon and complicated cross-referencing. The FRE has been enormously influential in the development of U. S. evidence law. This influence in part is a result of its brevity and simplicity.
Before 1975, U. S. evidence law was mostly a creature of the common law tradition. The FRE was drafted and proposed by a distinguished advisory committee composed of practitioners, judges, and law professors appointed by the United States Supreme Court. Just 20 years after the FRE was adopted in the federal system, almost three-quarters of the states had adopted codes that closely resemble the FRE.
The FRE applies in all federal courts in both criminal and civil cases. Understanding some of the basic provisions of the FRE will enable most people to figure out what is going on at trial, even if there are de-viations between the FRE and applicable state laws of evidence.