Course Description-Evidence Basics

Evidentiary Topics for the Non-Lawyer

By Fred Lederer, Chancellor Professor of Law and Director, Center for Legal and Court Technology, William & Mary Law School

Evidentiary Topics for the Non-Lawyer is a three program interactive distance education short course that discusses key evidentiary concepts likely to be of interest to non-lawyers in legal professions. Following an optional introductory orientation program, the course will consist of:

The concept of relevance – evidence that is “relevant” is admissible (usable) in court unless prohibited by another evidentiary rule.  Relevance is a fluid concept, however, that can only be understood within a factual context. This 90 minute program will discuss the meaning of relevance via a number of key factual examples.

Learning objectives: 

  • The student will understand the fundamental concept of relevance.
  • The student will understand why judges differ on determinations of relevancy and the implication of that uncertainty on case planning and preparation.
  • The student will understand the concept and application of authentication as a relevance requirement.

Inadmissible by reason of public policy – evidence that is relevant may be inadmissible (unusable) in court for a variety of public policy reasons ranging from specific concerns such as the potential impact on jurors of learning about insurance coverage in personal injury cases to a more general concern that the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by factors such as unfair prejudice or waste of time. This 90 minute program will discuss key evidentiary rules that exclude evidence for important legal and social reasons.

Learning objectives:

  • The student will understand the concept of legal relevance, including Federal Rule of Evidence 403 and its analogues, and how it can keep relevant, probative evidence out of court.
  • The student will understand how the settlement and plea bargaining  evidentiary exclusionary rules work and their limits.
  • The student will understand the concept of character evidence and how and why it is often excluded from trial and how and why acts of specific incidents and knowledge may be admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) and its analogues.

Hearsay and its exceptions – Of all the evidence rules, the one that restricts hearsay, “an out-of-court statement offered for its truth” is perhaps the most difficult to grasp and one of the most important evidentiary doctrines. This 90 minute program will discuss the definition of hearsay and summarize some of the key exceptions to the rule.

Learning objectives:

  • The student will understand the concept of hearsay and why the hearsay rule is so important to trial planning.
  • The student will have a basic understanding of the concept of the traditional exceptions to the hearsay rule, including admissions and business records.
  • The student will have a basic understanding of how the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution works to exclude otherwise admissible hearsay evidence offered by the prosecution against a criminal defendant.