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A Primer on the New York Rules of Evidence

A successful criminal defense lawyer must know the Rules of Evidence in New York.  As a general rule, the trial judge is the gatekeeper when it comes to what evidence a jury is able to consider. However, judges are bound by certain rules of evidence which are written by lawmakers. The Guide to New York Evidence closely mirrors the Federal Rules of Evidence, but there are a few differences.

The most basic rule of evidence is that only relevant evidence is admissible. Relevant evidence is defined a, “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the proceeding more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” However, not all relevant evidence is admissible in a New York criminal trial.

Under rule 4.01(2) all relevant evidence is admissible unless it is precluded by the state or federal constitution, by statute, or by the common law. In New York, there are several rules that can help defendants, as well as few that can hurt them. For example, under Rule 4.27, evidence that a defendant has previously been convicted of a crime is only admissible when it is an element of an offense or, “otherwise essential to the establishment of a legally sufficient case.” If the prosecution cannot establish one of these two situations exist, then a defendant’s prior convictions are inadmissible.

Another important rule of evidence that can help defendants is Rule 4.11. Rule 4.11 helps defendants in some situations by preventing the prosecution from introducing evidence of the defendant’s “bad character,” and suggesting that this makes it more likely that he or she committed the crime in question. In other words, the prosecution cannot introduce evidence that a defendant was known in the neighborhood as a thief. While this evidence is arguably relevant, it is expressly excluded by Rule 4.11. Of course, Rule 4.11 can be a double-edged sword in that it may also prevent a defendant from introducing character evidence of other people, including an alleged victim.

Some other rules of evidence are less favorable to criminal defendants. For example, when a defendant is charged with a New York sex crime, he cannot introduce evidence of the complaining witness’ past sexual history under Rule 4.20. This is referred to as the New York Rape Shield Law, which was passed to protect the victims of sexual assault from having their sexual history used by the defense. However, Rape Shield laws can seriously hamstring a defendant’s ability to present a defense, and have been challenged on many occasions. For the most part, Rape Shield laws across the country remain intact. Thus, defendants can only use this type of evidence if it meets one of the exceptions contained in Rule 4.20.

Have You Been Charged with a New York Crime?

If you or a loved one has recently been arrested and charged with a serious New York crime, contact the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. At our New York law firm, we represent clients who face all types of criminal allegations, including New York sex offenses and violent crimes. We pride ourselves in offering exceptional representation to each of our clients, regardless of the seriousness of their charges. To learn more about how our dedicated team of skilled attorneys can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation.