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Relevant Evidence in California (CA Evidence Code section 210)

It should hopefully not surprise anyone that evidence is important in legal disputes. The parties will inevitably say their own versions of what happened, but unless someone has evidence to back up what they’re saying, the outcome will likely disappoint all involved. Not all evidence is treated equal, however. The evidence in question has to be relevant to the dispute in order to be of interest to a judge, a jury, the lawyers, etc. In this post, I’m going to talk about what “relevant” means in California court cases. The definition, unfortunately, varies from state-to-state. New York has a different definition as does the Federal Court system. Hopefully, though, you can see that the definitions are similar, regardless of the jurisdiction. In California state court, relevance is defined in California Evidence Code section 210, which provides: “Relevant evidence” means evidence, including evidence relevant to the credibility of a witness or hearsay declarant, having any tendency in reason to prove or disprove any disputed fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action.” I bolded the end of that definition to highlight that ‘the tendency within reason to prove or disprove any disputed fact’ is the essence of what relevance means. Relevance is important because it limits what evidence can be admitted. Under section 350 of the California Evidence Code, only relevant evidence is admissible. In the abstract, this should hopefully make sense to everyone. It would be confusing and a waste of time and energy to admit or use evidence that is unrelated (i.e. is not relevant) to what the dispute or case is about. In practice,...