Effective January 1, 2013, Georgia’s New Rules of Evidence go into effect. The new provisions are found generally at O.C.G.A. Title 24, Chapter 1 through 10. The new code applies to all cases filed on/or after 1/01/13 and to all trials commenced on/or after said date. What this means is that the new Rules of Evidence will apply to any case in Georgia beginning on January 1, 2013, and going forward.
By in large Georgia’s New Rules of Evidence are patterned after the Federal Rules of Evidence. This is a change in the right direction for trial lawyers because the Rules of Evidence are now codified. Previously, Georgia Rules of Evidence were a hodge-podge of various statutory and common law rulings which had to be located in different sections of the code. Now the Rules of Evidence are codified in a single title in ten (10) chapters. Because the new rules are patterned after the Federal Rules there is an abundance of case authority interpreting these rules for practitioners to rely upon when determining whether a particular piece of evidence is or is not admissible under the rules.
All the Rules of Evidence are designed to insure that only reliable evidence is presented for a jury’s consideration. The purpose of the rules is to make sure that in any dispute, whether it is civil or criminal, that a jury only be given reliable evidence which is trustworthy. Unreliable, prejudicial evidence is generally excluded under these rules. Because there are many different types of evidence offered during jury trials whether the evidence be from video recordings, medical records, financial records or otherwise the new rules are designed to make sure that evidence will only be admitted from trustworthy and reliable sources and that any verdict rendered based on such evidence is likewise more reliable than would otherwise be the case.
There are many new provisions in the new rules. They are too lengthy to be addressed in an article such as this, but it is very helpful to have the Federal Rules as a pattern for Georgia practitioners. As an example, under the new O.C.G.A. § 24-10-1006, the parties can introduce summaries of voluminous evidence, such as financial records, which cannot be conveniently examined in the Court. A witness can be called to present a summary of what five (5) years of financial records might show, as an example. Another helpful change in the rules is the provision allowing a Business Record Certification from a business record custodian in lieu of having to call a Custodian live at time of trial in order to introduce business records. See O.C.G.A. § 24-9-902(11). Another very helpful rule is 24-4-403 which provides Trial Courts with the discretion to determine whether the prejudicial impact of any proposed evidence substantially outweighs its alleged probative value. In short, even if evidence is relevant or otherwise probative, if its prejudicial impact is unfair given the particular disputed issues, a Trial Court has the discretion to exclude such evidence despite its relevance. This rule is particularly crucial in making sure that the parties’ rights to a fair trial are protected when controversial evidence is sought to be introduced by litigants in either civil or criminal proceedings. Whether the evidence is of a sexual nature, concerns drug use or specific acts of misconduct for which there is no criminal conviction, the Court can exercise its discretion under this new rule to exclude such evidence even if it is arguably relevant.
A new day is dawning for trials in Georgia. Because the newly codified Code of Evidence in Georgia can now be conveniently examined with plenty of case authority in the federal courts to examine for an interpretation of the rules, this new law will help the Courts and litigants streamline the procedures for jury trials in Georgia.