When speaking to your attorney, you may regularly hear the phrase, “that’s not relevant.” What is relevant evidence? According to the Illinois Rules of Evidence, Rule 401, 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. Rule 402 explains that all relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by law. Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.
There are times when evidence, while relevant, is excluded from admission. Rule 403 provides: although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
Illinois maintains a slight distinction between relevancy and materiality, although you may have heard the terms used interchangeably. Materiality generally relates to the facts in issue, while relevancy goes to the probative weight of the proffered evidence. Materiality looks to the relationship between the propositions for which the evidence is offered and the issues in the case.
Judges tend to become annoyed when attorneys attempt to introduce non-relevant evidence during a hearing, especially when the evidence is used to cast one of the litigants in a negative light. So, when your attorney tells you that facts you bring to their attention are not relevant, it behooves you to listen to them. They are trying to protect from wasting money, confusing the issues, and presently poorly before the decision-maker.