Exclusion of necessary defense evidence

Jay Leiderman
By: Jay Leiderman
November 30 2016

The United States Supreme Court has held that the Sixth Amendment requires “at a minimum, that criminal defendants have . . . the right to put before a jury evidence that might influence the determination of guilt. [Citations.]” (Pennsylvania v. Ritchie (1987) 480 U.S. 39, 56.)  Exclusion of necessary defense evidence is subject to due process protections.  When the defendant’s right to present a defense is at stake, it is an abuse of discretion to exclude probative evidence that meets the minimum statutory standards for admissibility.  (People v. Jackson (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1670, 1681; People v. Burrell-Hart (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 593, 599; People v. Taylor (1980) 112 Cal.App.3d 348, 365; see also People v. De Larco (1983) 142 Cal.App.3d 294, 305-308.)

The California Supreme Court has noted that the trial court has discretion in weighing the prejudicial effect of proffered evidence against its probative value.  But the Court has cautioned, “This discretion is not, however, unlimited, especially when its exercise hampers the ability of the defense to present evidence.”  (People v. Cooper (1991) 53 Cal.3d 771, 816.)

The right to put on defense evidence to support the defendant’s theory of the case is fundamental to hte justice system

“We have recognized, however, that Evidence Code section 352 must yield to a defendant’s due process right to a fair trial and to the right to present all relevant evidence of significant probative value to his or her defense. [Citation.]”  (People v. Cunningham (2001) 25 Cal.4th 926, 998-999.)
In People v. Reeder (1978) 82 Cal.App.3d 543, 553, the court held that the rule of excluding evidence as more prejudicial than probative “must be considered in the light of the more fundamental principle that a defendant’s due process right to a fair trial requires that evidence, the probative value of which is stronger than the slight-relevancy category and which tends to establish a defendant’s innocence, cannot be excluded on the theory that such evidence is prejudicial to the prosecution.”  (Id. at 552 [italics in original].)

In People v. Hall (1985) 41 Cal.3d 826, 829, the California Supreme Court stated, “We reaffirm the admissibility of any relevant evidence that raises a reasonable doubt as to a defendant’s guilt.” (Emphasis added.)

We further recognize that a defendant’s right to present his defense theory is a fundamental right and that all of his pertinent evidence should be considered by the trier of fact. (Davis v. Alaska (1974) 415 U.S. 308, 317; People v. Reeder, supra, 82 Cal.App.3d at p. 552.)  . . . .  Accordingly, since the trial court’s discretion should “favor the defendant in cases of doubt” (People v. De Larco (1983) 142 Cal.App.3d 294, 306), the trial court properly should have admitted this evidence.

the admissibility of any relevant evidence that raises a reasonable doubt

(People v. Burrell-Hart, supra (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 593, 599-600 [emphasis added].)

As the United States Supreme Court has declared, “Few rights are more fundamental than that of an accused to present witnesses in his own defense.” (Chambers v. Mississippi (1973) 410 U.S. 284, 302.)  Indeed, the Court has held that “the right of an accused to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, guaranteed in federal trials by the Sixth Amendment, is so fundamental and essential to a fair trial that it is incorporated in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”  (Washington v. Texas (1967) 388 U.S. 14, 17-18.)

The right to offer the testimony of witnesses, and to compel their attendance, if necessary, is in plain terms the right to present a defense, the right to present the defendant’s version of the facts as well as the prosecution’s to the jury, so it may decide where the truth lies.  Just as an accused has the right to confront the prosecution’s witnesses for the purpose of challenging their testimony, he has the right to present his own witnesses to establish a defense.  This right is a fundamental element of due process of law.


(Washington v. Texas (1967) 388 U.S. 14, 19.  Emphasis added.)


2 thoughts on “Exclusion of necessary defense evidence

  1. Rule 403. Excluding Relevant Evidence for Prejudice, Confusion …
    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.

  2. Franklin Kuonquí Gaínza / Bajo el criterio planteado de la vudierabnlilad, no es un delito violar a una mujer que diambule sola y desprevenida en la noche, porque simplemente ella no tomó las medidas de seguridad necesarias para que aquello no suceda.

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