Irrelevant or Immaterial Questions

AuthorAshley S. Lipson
C 6
Irrelevant or Immaterial
§6.100 Introduction
§6.200 Quick Explanation
§6.300 General Legal Analysis
§6.400 Problems Pertaining to Criminal Cases
§6.500 Problems Pertaining to Civil Cases
§6.600 Detecting Irrelevancy
§6.700 Relevancy/Irrelevancy as a Matter of Law
§6.701 Character Evidence
§6.701(a) Prior Crimes
§6.702 Habit Evidence
§6.703 Subsequent Remedial Measures
§6.704 Evidence of Offer of Compromise
§6.705 Payment of Medical Bills
§6.706 Evidence of Pleas
§6.707 Liability Insurance Exclusion
§6.708 Sex Crimes
§6.800 Selected State Rules and Cases
§6.100 Is It Admissible? 6-2
§6.100 Introduction
To be admissible, a question must be both
relevant and material. A question is irrelevant if it
has no relationship to the issues of the case. But
being “relevant” is only half the battle; a question
must also be “material.” For, even though a question
may be relevant, it might still be immaterial (and,
therefore, objectionable) if the information sought
is not determinative of the main issues in the case.
§6.200 Quick Explanation
A question is irrelevant if it has no bearing
whatsoever on the case. The test of relevance
is a very easy one to satisfy. A question will be
considered relevant as long as it infers or suggests
something about a disputed fact. “Materiality”
is a term that is often used synonymously with
relevance, but it is, in fact, a stricter standard.
To be material, the evidence must tend to prove
or disprove a fact that is critical to the outcome
of the case.
1. What is the defendant’s race, religion, or
national origin?
2. Was the defendant ever arrested before
for the same crime of which he is charged
3. How safely did Maniac Morrey drive one
year after the subject accident?
Every part of the first question is both
irrelevant and immaterial as a matter of law in
every jurisdiction of this country, unless, of course,
the case happens to involve discrimination or
deportation. As a general proposition, a person’s
racial background should never be used to imply
guilt, innocence, or liability.
The second question is immaterial because
an “arrest” by itself does not establish guilt.
As a matter of fact, a person is presumed to be
innocent of a crime until proven guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt.
The third question is relevant, but immaterial.
In an auto negligence case, an answer to the
question might tend to show that Morrey is an
“all around” bad (or good) driver; that would be
relevant. But, as a general proposition, events that
occur after the fact (i.e., after the event which is
the subject of the trial) are immaterial. Caution
in applying this proposition is urged; sometimes
subsequent events may be used to show prior
occurrences. Here is a subtle example—If a
suspect, days after a murder occurred, frantically
erases fingerprints on the murder weapon, stuffs
the victim into a suitcase, and then attempts to fly
to Rio, those subsequent acts might very well be
deemed relevant and material.
Questions that do not lead to a solution or
answer to the key issues of the case.
“Objection. The question is irrelevant
and immaterial.”
A. “The question is directly related to
B. [Oldest Trick-in-the-Book Response] “I
will link this up later.”
§6.300 General Legal Analysis
Fed. R. Evid. 402 starts with the very broad
proposition that:
All relevant evidence is admissible, except
as otherwise provided by the Constitution
of the United States, by Act of Congress,
by these rules, or by other rules prescribed
by the Supreme Court pursuant to statutory
authority. Evidence which is not relevant is
not admissible.
The rule simply states that relevant evidence,
not otherwise objectionable, is admissible. The
Federal Rules, in general, provide a very “liberal
standard” which favors the admission of evidence
if it has any “probative value” for the proof of a
material fact.1 Rule 402, in particular, is intended to

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