An evidence code is a section of legislation pertaining to the proper collection, handling, and presentation of evidence. Evidence codes are designed to codify the rules of evidence to reduce confusion and disputes. Law enforcement officers need to be familiar with the rules of evidence, as do attorneys and judges. Legislation is freely available to members of the public and people interested in the evidence code for their region can request a copy or look it up online.
The evidence code addresses a variety of issues concerning evidence. It breaks up cases into different categories, including civil and criminal cases, and sets out the standards of evidence for each type of case. These standards include how evidence should be collected, handled, and stored by law enforcement and other legal professionals. If evidence is not handled correctly, it can be thrown out of court.
In addition, the evidence code defines different types of evidence and discusses when evidence is allowable and when it is not. Attorneys must follow the code when they introduce evidence in court and they may be requested to show support for introducing a particular piece of evidence if a judge is concerned about a potential violation of evidence law. Judges consider these rules when making decisions about allowing evidence and when examining cases brought up on appeal with an argument based on the rules of evidence.
Evidentiary standards are usually stricter for criminal cases, since the corresponding punishments are much more severe. The goal is to allow people to introduce original evidence relevant to a case, while also protecting defendants. Evidence that is not relevant or is at risk of being forged or otherwise falsified cannot be allowed in court as it may jeopardize the fair outcome of a case. There are also strict collection standards about evidence; evidence may be valid, but if it was gathered illegally, it is not allowed in court.
If a judge encounters a situation where the evidence code cannot be applied to a legal decision, the judge must consider existing law, any precedents that may have been set, and the facts of the case when issuing a decision about evidence. These decisions may set precedents. When this occurs, a judge is careful to document the reasoning behind a decision to make it less vulnerable to appeal and to allow other judges to use the text of the decision when making rulings of their own in the future.