Irrelevant or Immaterial Questions

AuthorAshley S. Lipson
Chapter 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 consid-
ered relevant as long as it infers or suggests some-
thing 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 today?
3. How safely did Maniac Morrey drive
one year after the subject accident?
Every part of the first question is both irrel-
evant and immaterial as a matter of law in every
jurisdiction of this country, unless, of course, the
case happens to involve discrimination or depor-
tation. 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 immate-
rial. 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 proposi-
tion, events that occur after the fact (i.e., after
the event which is the subject of the trial) are
immaterial. Caution in applying this proposi-
tion 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 rel-
evant 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
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

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