§ 6.13 Appellate Review of Admissibility Decisions

JurisdictionNorth Carolina
§ 6.13 Appellate Review of Admissibility Decisions

Three different standards are used to review evidentiary issues: (1) the interpretation of a rule of evidence is reviewed de novo; (2) application of the rule is reviewed under an abuse-of-discretion standard; and (3) factual determinations needed to apply a rule are reviewed under a "clearly erroneous" standard.104

The abuse-of-discretion standard is employed when reviewing a trial court's application of an evidentiary rule because the trial court is in a better position to evaluate the tenor of the trial: "In deference to a district court's familiarity with the details of the case and its greater experience in evidentiary matters, courts of appeals afford broad discretion to a district court's evidentiary rulings."105 For example, in General Elec. Co. v. Joiner,106 the Supreme Court adopted an abuse-of-discretion standard for reviewing a trial court's admissibility decision relating to expert testimony under Rule 702. In that case, the trial court had excluded the evidence, but the abuse-of-discretion standard would have also applied had the evidence been admitted.107 Under this standard, a reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the trial court. Consequently, the trial court's decision is rarely reversed on appeal.



[104] E.g., Estate of Gryder v. Comm'r, 705 F.2d 336, 338 (8th Cir. 1983) ("[T]he Commissioner was unable to produce the originals of many corporate records, including journals and check-stub books. These records were destroyed by employees of the Internal Revenue Service after Cordial's criminal trial. The Tax Court's finding that these documents were destroyed negligently but not in bad faith is not clearly erroneous; thus, the Commissioner could seek to prove their contents by secondary evidence.").

[105] See Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 384 (2008); Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172 (1997); United States v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45 (1984). See also Congress & Empire Spring Co v. Edgar, 99 U.S. 645, 658 (1878) ("Cases arise where it is very much a matter of discretion with the court whether to receive or exclude the evidence; but...

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