ARTICLE IV.

RELEVANCY AND ITS LIMITS

 

Rule 401 Definition of "relevant evidence". "Relevant evidence" means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. [L 1980, c 164, pt of 1]

 

RULE 401 COMMENTARY

 

This rule is identical with Fed. R. Evid. 401. The rule draws upon the traditional common law definition of "relevancy," that is, "[T]he tendency of the evidence to establish a material proposition," McCormick 185; however, it is formulated to eliminate the lexically ambiguous requirement that a proposition be "material," which has been variously construed to mean "important," "necessary," "substantial," and "essential," as well as simply related to an issue in the action, see 26A Words and Phrases 212-14, 218-19 (1953). The rule actually encompasses the old materiality requirement by specifying that the "fact" to which the evidence is directed be "of consequence to the determination of the action." For this reason, the words "material" and "materiality" do not appear in these rules.

This rule restates existing Hawaii law. In State v. Smith, 59 H. 565, 567, 583 P.2d 347, 349 (1978), the court defined the concept of relevance: "Evidence is relevant if it tends to prove a fact in controversy or renders a matter in issue more or less probable." The court in Smith also relied upon the holding in State v. Irebaria, 55 H. 353, 356, 519 P.2d 1246, 1248-49 (1974), for the distinction between relevance and sufficiency of the evidence:

The concept of relevance, however, does not encompass standards of sufficiency. Appellant's contention that evidence which, standing alone, is insufficient to establish a controverted fact, should be inadmissible is totally without basis in the law. It is often said that "[a] brick is not a wall." ...Appellant through a "sufficiency" standard would take away the building blocks of a prima facie case. The sufficiency standard should apply only when all the bricks of individually insufficient evidence are in place and the wall itself is tested.

This rule preserves the Irebaria distinction between relevance and sufficiency by establishing, as the requisite standard of probability, that the consequential fact be rendered "more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." As the Advisory Committee's Note to Fed. R. Evid. 401 put it: "Any more stringent requirement is unworkable and unrealistic.... Dealing with probability in the language of the rule has the added virtue of avoiding confusion between questions of admissibility and questions of the sufficiency of the evidence."

 

Case Notes

 

Clothing found in trash, although not identified as being in defendant's possession, admissible as part of State's circumstantial evidence. 67 H. 581, 698 P.2d 293 (1985).

Evidence of driver's drinking prior to accident relevant to establish driver's negligence; evidence of prior accidents at same location should have been admitted to show notice of potentially dangerous condition. 68 H. 447, 719 P.2d 387 (1986).

Trial court did not err in ruling that evidence of motorcyclist's nonuse of helmet was not relevant under this rule, and thus, not admissible under rule 402. 74 H. 308, 844 P.2d 670 (1993).

Trial court did not err under rules 401 and 403 in admitting evidence that indicated that plaintiff's symptoms may have been linked to drug use and not solely to exposure to silicone. 78 H. 287, 893 P.2d 138 (1995).

"Legitimate tendency" test regarding admission of evidence regarding a third person's motive to commit the crime charged, comports with the relevancy test set forth in this rule. 79 H. 347, 903 P.2d 43 (1995).

No abuse of discretion in admitting school nurse's testimony as testimony was relevant because it was of "consequence to the determination" as to whether the complainant was sexually assaulted. 80 H. 107, 905 P.2d 613 (1995).

Expert medical testimony that "permanent, serious disfigurement" would have resulted absent medical attention irrelevant where that result was an element of the charged offense. 80 H. 126, 906 P.2d 612 (1995).

Witness' testimony regarding witness' auto accident injuries relevant to issue of plaintiff's damages. 80 H. 212, 908 P.2d 1198 (1995).

Evidence that victim had $2,300 in cash on person after the shooting irrelevant where fact of consequence was defendant's state of mind at the time of shooting and reasonableness of that state of mind. 80 H. 307, 909 P.2d 1122 (1996).

Evidence of gross weight of cocaine relevant and properly admitted as it made the "consequential fact" that cocaine's net weight was at least one ounce more probable than it would be without the evidence. 80 H. 382, 910 P.2d 695 (1996).

Knife properly admitted as relevant evidence as its attributes made likelihood that victims' injuries were life-threatening more or less probable than without the evidence. 83 H. 335, 926 P.2d 1258 (1996).

Trial court erred in ruling that victim's past use of a handgun was not relevant, as victim's ownership and use of a handgun, and defendant's knowledge of victim's past conduct when under the influence of drugs, combined with the risk to life that victim posed, was relevant to the issue of defendant's reasonable apprehension on the morning in question. 97 H. 206, 35 P.3d 233 (2001).

Where evidence that child was a victim of battered child syndrome was relevant to show that child's death was not an accident, but the result of an intentional, knowing or reckless criminal act, giving rise to a duty on defendant's part to obtain medical care for child pursuant to 663-1.6, trial court did not err in admitting expert testimony that child was a victim of battered child syndrome. 101 H. 332, 68 P.3d 606 (2003).

Defendant's failure to proclaim defendant's innocence to cellmate was irrelevant under this rule and, thus, not admissible by virtue of rule 402. 104 H. 203, 87 P.3d 275 (2004).

Testimony by defendant's cellmate that defendant desired a reduction of the murder charge to manslaughter was irrelevant under this rule under the circumstances of the case; defendant's reference to a reduction of the charges against defendant did not make the existence of any fact regarding whether defendant committed the murder "more or less probable than it would be without" this testimony. 104 H. 203, 87 P.3d 275 (2004).

The fact that defendant purchased bras for daughter and complaining witness and the allegation that the girls had been sitting at table in their underwear "a couple of days" before the incident were not relevant to any of the events which occurred on date of incident, where, inter alia, the purchase of bras by defendant would not tend to make more probable any fact relating to the elements of sexual contact by defendant. 77 H. 340 (App.), 884 P.2d 403 (1994).

Witness' testimony that witness suffered injuries in accident relevant as to whether and to what extent the rear-end collision caused plaintiff's injuries. 80 H. 188 (App.), 907 P.2d 774 (1995).

Evidence of prior real estate transactions between seller and broker had tendency to make broker's alleged breach of fiduciary duty more probable and were relevant to broker's duty of loyalty. 84 H. 162 (App.), 931 P.2d 604 (1997).

Trial court erred harmfully in excluding, pursuant to this rule and rule 403, defendant's exhibit with respect to defendant's theft-by-deception charges under 708-830(2), on the grounds that defendant's analysis of the tax laws was irrelevant and that evidence of defendant's legal theories would confuse the jury, where evidence that defendant, based on defendant's understanding of the tax laws, had a good faith belief that defendant did not owe taxes on defendant's wages was relevant to whether defendant acted by deception and whether defendant had a defense under 708-834(1). 119 H. 60 (App.), 193 P.3d 1260 (2008).

Where, pursuant to 231-40, the Cheek interpretation of the wilfulness requirement--that a jury must be permitted to consider evidence of a defendant's good faith belief that defendant's conduct did not violate the tax laws, even if that belief was not objectively reasonable, in determining whether defendant acted wilfully--was adopted and applied in construing 231-36(a), the trial court erred in excluding defendant's exhibit pursuant to this rule and rule 403 on the grounds that defendant's analysis of the tax laws was irrelevant and that evidence of defendant's legal theories would confuse the jury. 119 H. 60 (App.), 193 P.3d 1260 (2008).

Trial court did not err in admitting seatbelt buckle patent into evidence under this rule and rules 402 and 403 for the limited purpose of showing a defect in the seatbelt where the language in the patent that "known mechanisms are complicated, and some do not positively retain the latch plate" may have evinced a defect in the seatbelt that could have resulted in inertial or inadvertent release in the case, as well as defendant's knowledge of such a defect. 121 H. 143 (App.), 214 P.3d 1133 (2009).

There was no plain error in the admission of officer's statements regarding defendant's telephone conversation with wife while in custody to "clean the car", where statements had at least some bearing on defendant's consciousness of guilt and defendant's attempts to conceal evidence linking defendant to decedent's death, both facts at issue in the case, and there was no danger of confusing the jury as counsel for both sides noted in front of the jury that officer's testimony concerned events in 2007. 126 H. 40 (App.), 266 P.3d 448 (2011).

Cited: 134 H. 376 (App.), 341 P.3d 1176 (2014).

Mentioned: 129 H. 250 (App.), 297 P.3d 1106 (2013).

 

 

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