3. Relevance

Author:David M. Paciocco - Lee Stuesser
Profession:Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice - Professor of Law, Bond University
Pages:27-31
 
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3. 1) The Concept Explained

Evidence is relevant where it has some tendency as a matter of logic and human experience to make the proposition for which it is advanced more likely than that proposition would appear to be in the absence of that evidence. To identify logically irrelevant evidence, ask, "Does the evidence assist in proving the fact that my opponent is trying to prove?"

While the concept of materiality describes the relationship between evidence and the matters in issue, logical "relevance" is about the relationship between evidence and the fact it is offered to prove. There is no legal test for identifying relevant evidence. Relevance is a matter of logic. To identify logically irrelevant evidence, ask, "Does the evidence assist in proving the fact that my opponent is trying to prove?" For example, evidence that the alleged robber had downloaded a map of the area where the bank that was robbed was located would be relevant in linking the accused to the robbery. Evidence that he had downloaded movies about bank robbers would not.

3. 2) Direct Evidence, Circumstantial Evidence, and Relevance

"Direct evidence is evidence which, if believed, resolves a matter in issue."6

For example, on the issue of whether the man with the teardrop tattoos

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had a gun, testimony of a witness saying, "I saw the man with the tear-drop tattoos holding a gun" is direct evidence. Direct evidence establishes a material fact without the need for any inferences to be drawn.

Circumstantial evidence "is evidence that tends to prove a factual matter by proving other events or circumstances from which [either alone or in combination with other evidence] the occurrence of the matter in issue can be reasonably inferred."7Unlike direct evidence, circumstantial evidence requires inferences to be drawn before it is of use in resolving material issues. Testimony that, "like the accused, the robber had a tattoo of a stream of tears on his right cheek," is circumstantial evidence that the accused is the robber. To find this evidence useful, the trier of fact must infer that, because such tattoos are rare, the accused and the robber may well be one and the same person. Combined with the other evidence, the coincidental, unusual tattoos may be enough to prove the identity of the accused as the robber beyond a reasonable doubt.

It can be readily seen that the concept of relevance is important only for circumstantial evidence. Information that is direct evidence of a material issue does not require a bridging inference before it is useful; therefore, no inquiry into a logical nexus between the evidence and the fact sought to be proved is required.

3. 3) The Standard of Logical Relevance

Evidence is relevant where it has some tendency as a matter of logic and human experience to make the proposition for which it is advanced more likely than that proposition would be in the absence of that evidence.8As the Supreme Court of Canada has said:

To be logically relevant, an item of evidence does not have to firmly establish, on any standard, the truth or falsity of a fact in issue. The evidence must simply tend to "increase or diminish the probability of the existence of a fact in issue." . . . As a consequence, there is no minimum probative value required for evidence to be relevant.9For example, imagine that the evidence offered is that, like the accused, the robber had brown eyes. "While such evidence may have little . . . probative value, given the prevalence of brown-eyed people in the relevant

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population, nonetheless, it is still...

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