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Tips on Getting Evidence for Court

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There are a large number of laws which set standards for what evidence Opens new window can be used in a court. Together, these laws are called the California Code of Evidence. Everyone, even a person who represents him- or herself, has to follow these laws when he or she is getting and presenting evidence for court. Neither the judge nor the court staff can assist you in preparing or presenting your case.

These tips will help you to start thinking about how to present evidence at a hearing or trial.

What Does the Court Consider Evidence?

Evidence is information you may present in court to prove your case. It can be in two main forms:

1. People: witness Opens new window testimony

  • You
  • Other people who have direct and relevant information about the case
  • People who keep records
  • Experts

2. Things: exhibits Opens new window

  • Photographs
  • Records: police, medical, bills, appraisals, school records, etc.
  • Other documents or things

In either case, the judge will want to know:

Why is this witness or exhibit helpful in deciding your case?


Rules of Evidence

There are rules of evidence that everyone must follow. These rules help ensure that the judge gets reliable, relevant and accurate evidence to consider when making decisions about your case.

Among the most important of these rules are:

  • Generally, people can only talk about what they know first hand – what they themselves saw, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted. (There are some exceptions to this rule.)
  • The other party Opens new window has the right to cross-examine anyone whose words (whether written or spoken) are being considered.
  • All testimony must be relevant information.

NOTE: Different case types may have their own rules. For example, how long you have to do things or how many questions you can ask are ruled by case type. To read the California Evidence Code on-line, click here. Opens new window 


Using People as Evidence: Witnesses

A witness is a person called by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the judge or jury. It could be you, other people who have direct and relevant information about the case, people who keep records, or experts who are qualified to give an opinion in an area of the case. Usually, the witness must be present in court for the hearing or trial.

1. How do I prepare my witnesses for court?

It is not cheating to prepare for court. Write out your questions.

  • Practice the questions with your witness.
  • Be prepared for cross-examination: talk with your witness about what questions the other side might ask him or her.
  • Remind your witnesses that they must tell the truth. It is OK to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember,” if that is the truth.

Tip: You may want to write down ahead of time why you want to offer this witness or exhibit. Then, when the judge asks, you can answer even if you’re nervous.

2. What if a key witness says he or she won’t come to court?


You can ask the court to order a witness to appear. This is called a subpoena. You can get subpoenas from the court that order someone:

  • To appear
  • To appear and produce documents or things
  • To appear for the taking of a deposition.

NOTE: Some witnesses may want to appear but need to be served with a subpoena in order to get the time off of their work to go to court.

Using Things as Evidence: Exhibits

An exhibit is a document or an object used by either side in a lawsuit to prove his or her claim. Exhibits could be financial statements, medical records, counselor’s reports, photographs, tools, equipment or other things.

1. How do I prepare my exhibit for court?

Once you have selected what you want to use:

  • Make two copies of each exhibit – one for the other party, and the other for you. (The court will keep the original.)
  • Ask a court clerk how to mark your exhibits.
Some courts will want you to mark each piece of evidence with an exhibit identifier. (For example, attach a sticker labeled “Exhibit 1,” “Exhibit 2”, etc. – OR “Exhibit A,” “B,” etc. The clerk can tell you which to use.)

Some courts will mark the exhibits in court.
Some documents have confidential information,
such as bank account and social security numbers.
You may ask the court to black out this information
and to keep sensitive documents confidential



2. How do I introduce an exhibit in court?


To show the court one of your exhibits:

  1. First, show the exhibit to the other party (or the other party’s attorney),
  2. Next, either you or your witness must testify about the exhibit to show that the evidence is relevant to your case and is authentic (not made up).This is called “laying the foundation.”
  3. Ask the court to admit the exhibit into evidence.

The other party or attorney may object Opens new window to the exhibit for some reason. Try to answer these objections as best you can. Finally, the judge will decide whether to allow the exhibit or not.

How to Get Your Evidence

You may collect evidence by “discovery” or by “subpoena.”

1. Discovery
Discovery is pre-trial investigation. It allows you to get either evidence itself, or information that will lead to getting the evidence you need. There are rules for how much time you have to do things, and how many questions you can ask in a certain way.
Some common Discovery methods are:

Deposition:
A deposition is written or oral testimony given under oath in front of a court reporter. These take place outside of court and allow the parties to get a record of a person’s testimony, or to get testimony from a witness who lives far away. The person who sets up the deposition pays the court reporter’s fees.

Interrogatories:
Interrogatories are written questions sent by one side in a lawsuit to an opposing side. The side that receives the interrogatories must answer them in writing under oath, or give a legal basis for not answering them.

Request for Admission:
In a request for admission, one party formally and in writing asks the opposing party to admit the truth of certain facts relevant to a case.

Request for Production of Things:
One party may ask the other party for specific documents or things. The asking party may object to, copy or inspect these.

Subpoena Duces Tecum:
A subpoena duces tecum is an official court order to bring documents to a specific place at a specific time.

2. Subpoena
A subpoena is a court order telling a person to go to court at a specific time. They are commonly used to tell witnesses to come to court to testify in a trial. The court has forms you can use to ask for these.

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