Relevance: A Basic Explanation

Overview of Relevance

There are six important rules that cover the basis of “Relevance.” However, this article will only cover Rules 401, 402, and 403. The other rules, Rules 404, 405, and 406, will be covered in another article going over Character Evidence.

Rule 401 and Rule 402

These Relevance rules are very basic. The basic premise for relevance is that any evidence admitted must be relevant. The rules, Rule 401 and Rule 402, define whether evidence is admissible or inadmissible. Rule 401 goes over the definition of relevance. Rule 402 says irrelevant evidence is inadmissible.

Key Takeaways

  • Relevance is a very Low Bar – The court favors evidence to be admitted. Therefore, not much is needed to establish the relevance of the evidence being entered.
  • Rules 401 and 402 Work Together – Rule 401 is followed by 402. Therefore, both rules work together. Rule 401 goes over the definition of relevance. Rule 402 says irrelevant evidence is inadmissible.
  • Relevance is Dangerous – Relevance is a dangerous objection. This is because the side that brings up the relevance objection must substantially prove that the evidence being admitted is irrelevant. It also dangerous because it allows your opponent to explain their case-in-chief to the jury.

Rule 403

Rule 403 is an extremely useful objection because it allows you to exclude evidence. The basic wording of the rule allows the court to decide to exclude evidence if they believe it would be prejudice or unfair to the case.

The exact wording says:

Rule 403. Excluding Relevant Evidence for Prejudice, Confusion, Waste of Time, or Other Reasons

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.

However, there are a few catches to this objection.

  1. The evidence must be “substantially” or greatly unfair before it can be excluded.
  2. The rule is difficult to argue and win since the evidence must be “substantially” unfair.

The Balancing Equation (Prejudice vs. Probative)


The reason why this rule is difficult to use is that the court favors evidence being admitted than excluded. Therefore, it must protect against the misuse of this rule.

The court uses a BALANCING test to determine if the evidence is prejudice or probative. The difference between prejudicial and probative evidence is:

  • Prejudicial Evidence – Evidence that greatly prejudices (a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason) the jury
  • Probative Evidence – Evidence that can establish a fact

Key Takeaways

  • Rule 403 is a very High Bar – Unlike Rule 401 and Rule 402, with Rule 403, you must be able to establish that the evidence is not prejudice to the jury.
  • Evidence must be Substantially Prejudice – Evidence must prejudice the jury. The court will perform a balancing test to determine if it should be excluded from the trial