What are the Federal Rules of Evidence?

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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 March 2020
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The federal rules of evidence are a set of regulations that govern the introduction and admissibility of evidence in federal court proceedings in the United States (US). They apply to both civil and criminal law federal cases. Although the rules do not govern state court cases, many states within the US have drawn from the federal rules of evidence when modeling their own evidentiary rules. The US Supreme Court first enacted the rules, which are periodically amended by the US Congress.

In 1972, the US Supreme Court first adopted the federal rules of evidence, and Congress enacted them in 1973. Since the rules have been formally enacted by Congress, they are considered statutory in nature. This means that, in interpreting the rules, courts typically analyze them as they would any other kind of statute. The rules are intended to serve as a supplement to the common law or judge-made law that already exists regarding the admission and introduction of evidence. For instance, common law rulings can help courts resolve pending issues if gaps exist in the federal rules of evidence.


The federal rules of evidence are used by federal district and appellate courts, US bankruptcy judges, US claims courts, and US magistrates. Federal district courts situated in Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, as well as the US Supreme Court also typically abide by the rules. By and large, the rules are not used by administrative agencies. US military courts usually adopt evidentiary rules that are substantially the same as the federal rules of evidence.

Generally, the federal rules of evidence are intended to promote fairness in judicial administration by having a uniform set of rules in place. They can assist a judge in determining whether evidence can be admitted in a legal proceeding. In addition, they allow opposing lawyers to have a uniform playbook of rules to work from when trying cases.

The federal rules of evidence govern a range of issues including the admissibility of evidence, hearsay, and the authentication and identification of documentary evidence, like writings, recordings, and photographs. In addition, the rules address how attorneys can elicit oral testimony from lay witnesses or expert witnesses. Evidentiary privileges, such as attorney-client, doctor-patient, or attorney work product privileges, are also outlined in the rules. Additionally, the rules detail what constitutes relevant – or irrelevant – evidence. The rules also set guidelines for when evidence will be deemed unfairly prejudicial or cumulative.


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