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Spring 2024 Course


Prerequisites: None.

Exam type: In Class

We rely on judgments about evidence throughout our personal and professional lives. These judgments include the evidence supplied by our senses (such as, seeing that the sky is cloudy as evidence of actual or likely rain) as well as the evidence supplied by our reasoning faculties (such as, advice from experts as evidence regarding risks we face and steps we can take to prevent harms to ourselves and others). Lawyers and judges also constantly make judgments about evidence when they assess the applicability of legal rules to the facts of cases, which of course involves determining what exactly those facts are. American legal systems have developed Evidence law, a distinct set of rules, policies, and procedures that guide legal factfinders (lawyers, judges, and juries) in their judgments about what factual claims are taken to be sufficiently proven for the purposes of civil and criminal litigation — for depriving civil or criminal litigants of property, liberty, or life. In this course we study the rules, policies, and institutions of Evidence law, with a cohering focus on the argument practices of trial and appellate lawyers and judges under that law. We will be attentive to the illuminating and clarifying connections among legal arguments under rules of Evidence and the many other ways in which we make arguments that rely on evidence outside of the legal setting.

The course focuses on federal law (the Federal Rules of Evidence and cases interpreting them) but also covers selected state rules and cases. Topics include: presumptions and standards of proof and persuasion, judicial notice, relevance, privileges, authentication and best evidence rules, hearsay, lay, expert, and scientific expert evidence, examination and impeachment of witnesses, habit and character evidence, and some of the constitutional questions that arise in connection with rules of evidence. Our approach in this class is informed by the Logocratic Method, a special method of understanding and mastering the strengths and weakness of arguments, which law students, lawyers, and judges around the world have found to be a valuable way to master Evidence and other legal doctrines. Course work consists of regular class attendance and participation, and an in-class final exam.

Evidence is a recommended prerequisite for the Trial Advocacy Workshop and can be used as the basis for certification to practice in conjunction with some of the HLS clinical offerings.