In 2010, a man was charged with threatening federal officers with a gun. The Legal Intelligencer reports that the agents were in an unmarked car performing surveillance in an area known for heavy drug activity. The man claimed he was concerned for his safety, and he was unaware the men were federal officers. He then walked toward the car holding a gun and was subsequently arrested, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison
During the trial, the government submitted as evidence a testimony that the man had been observed dealing drugs at the same corner in 2008. An appeals court, however, reversed the conviction, noting that the evidence from the 2008 incident did not apply to the current case and could have misled the jury to believe that the man was dealing drugs at the time of his arrest.
The situation illustrates an important point: There are different types of evidence that may be used in a Minnesota court, but it may not always be admissible.
Knowing the basics
In general, there are two different kinds of evidence that may be used against someone facing criminal charges: physical items and testimony. Physical evidence refers to the items that are tangible and provide a link between a suspect and a crime. Those types of materials may include the following:
- Biological elements such as hair, blood, semen or saliva
- Chemical components such as paint chips and accelerants
- Patterns or fractures on broken items such as adhesive tape or glass
- Imprints, including tire tracks and footprints
Testimony may include either written statements or spoken words from eyewitnesses and the victim. This type of evidence could also include the results of a psychological exam as presented by a physician in court.
When is it relevant?
As the above case illustrates, not all testimony or physical evidence may be admissible in court. The Minnesota Judicial Branch mandates that prosecution may only use evidence against someone facing criminal charges if it has been deemed to make the existence of a fact relevant to the case more or less probable. The courts may exclude evidence if it is deemed to be able to mislead the jury, create an unfair prejudice or confuse the issues at stake.
For example, if someone is charged with drunk driving and the prosecution wants to use testimony demonstrating that the person is a member of a street gang, the evidence may be considered irrelevant because it could incite bias against the defendant.
People who have questions regarding the evidence in a trial should speak with a criminal defense attorney.