Investigators may have told you that the evidence against you is overwhelming. They may have fingerprints, shoe prints, bloodstains or DNA that supposedly links you to the crime. They may tell you these things -- even show you a weapon or a lab report -- to convince you to confess or reveal more information about the alleged crime.
However, this isn't TV. Before any of that evidence appears before a jury, it must go through its own trial of sorts. You may be relieved to know that every piece of evidence police claim to have against you may not appear before a jury. There are rules investigators and prosecutors must follow concerning evidence, and these rules are to protect your rights.
Rules and types of evidence
The federal government established rules governing evidence admitted in criminal and civil trials. Additionally, Tennessee and other states have their own rules dealing with evidence. The prosecution must present to a judge any evidence it plans to use in an attempt to prove your guilt so the judge can determine if a jury will learn about the evidence during your trial. The court may exclude evidence for several reasons, including the following:
- Police illegally obtained the evidence, for example through an unlawful search.
- The evidence is irrelevant to your case or will confuse the jury.
- The evidence will unfairly prejudice the jury against you.
- There is uncertainty about the integrity of the evidence, for example a breach in the chain of custody.
The prosecution may have real evidence (such as a weapon), testimony of witnesses, a model that speculates how events transpired or documents. Documentary evidence may include hard copies or electronic evidence, such as an email or social media post. During an evidentiary hearing, a judge will decide what evidence the prosecution may present during trial. You may even hear the judge eliminating certain testimony as the trial proceeds.
The value of the evidence
The prosecution must prove its case to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, so they are likely to use whatever means at their disposal, including expert witnesses. They may use certain terms that are unfamiliar to you, and understanding their meaning may help you participate more fully in your defense, for example:
- Circumstantial evidence offers information about the circumstances of the crime but relies on the jury to infer your involvement.
- Corroborating evidence confirms or supports other facts already in evidence.
- Hearsay is a statement offered by a witness about something he or she did not learn firsthand but only through something another person said.
The judge in your case may exclude hearsay evidence because it often has no corroboration.
Since evidence plays a crucial role in your fate, you will certainly want someone by your side who can evaluate and question its relevance and validity. A strong defense strategy will hinge on casting doubt on the evidence.