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Relevant Evidence under New York law (plus Federal law!)

A few posts ago, I went over what the definition of “relevance” was under California law and why it was important. Here’s that post, in case you missed it. In this post, I’m going to go over the analogous definition under New York law.

In New York, evidence is relevant if it has “any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probably than it would be without the evidence.” This is from the 1977 NY Court of Appeals case of People v. Davis. 43 NY 2d 17. As a reminder, the highest court in a state is the final arbiter of what the law of that state means. In California, the highest court is the California Supreme Court. In New York, however, the highest court is the Court of Appeals.

If you look at the California and New York definitions side-by-side, similarities do emerge.

  • New York: Relevant evidence means “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence”
  • California: “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. (California Evidence Code section 210)

The thrust of both definitions is that relevant evidence is that which has the tendency to prove or disprove a fact which is material to the dispute at hand.

This similarity remains if you look at the definition of relevance under Federal law as well. Under Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, evidence is relevant if:

  • it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and
  • the fact is of consequence in determining the action.

Like under California law, Federal law also provides that only relevant evidence is admissible in a case. Specifically, Rule 402 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that:

Relevant evidence is admissible unless any of the following provides otherwise:

  • the United State Constitution;
  • a federal statute;
  • these rules; or
  • other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court.

Irrelevant evidence is not admissible.

This is the federal analogue to California Evidence Code section 350. Lastly, the federal system also allows courts to exclude relevant evidence if it would do things such as cause confusion, consume undue time, be more prejudicial than probative, etc. Specifically, Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that:

The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.

This is the federal analogue of California Evidence Code section 352.

As always, this post is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion about relevancy or its various definitions under New York, California, or federal law. Please do your own research as the authorities I cite to above may have changed in the time between when I wrote this post and when you’re reading it. If you have a situation where the definition of relevance under New York law is important, please do find an attorney in your area with whom you can discuss it. Lastly, if you have read any of my other posts on New York law, you’ll recognize this, but for those of you who are new: As of the date of this post, I do not maintain a physical office in New York state. As a result, per New York Judiciary Law section 470, I do not take cases in New York. If you do have a case where you need a New York attorney and I can make a referral, I am happy to do so.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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