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Are the rules of Evidence in most small claims courts the same as higher court?

Portland, OR |

In this case, the judge was allowing the use of photos by the defendant that were taken by her after the event had ac cured. The deputies photos at the time of the event were not used. The defendant doctored her pictures. My objection to the use of the pictures was over ruled. If the pictures were created later, how could they be admissible? The whole case depended on the proper inclusion of evidence. The defendant is a liar and the judge chose to believe her over me. Do higher courts also change the rules? I've lost faith in the system if that be the new reality.

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Attorney answers 3


WIthout being involved in all the details of your case it's hard to say what happened. But I can tell you that the rules in small claims court are more relaxed and sometimes the Judges that get assigned to small claims are newer and less experienced. You also waive your right to appeal when you pick small claims. So essentially you elect the faster cheaper route and sort of agree to live with the result in exchange for taking the shortcut.

In regular court there is a lot more of an opportunity to explore the rules of evidence and you have the right to appeal it to the court of appeals and the supreme court if necessary. So in a case where the stakes are high there are a lot more checks and balances but this comes with a cost. You will spend a lot of time working on the case will almost always need to hire an attorney to help you get through it and these cases take years.

Also the rules of evidence apply somewhat differantly when a Judge is deciding a case as compared to a jury. When the case is tried to a judge a judge will consider a wider range of evidence because the judge will use their knowledge of the law to decide whether to disregard the submission and if they accept it, to decide how much weight to give it. So as you say for example the Judge accepted a picture that the other party altered - that doesn't mean that this picture was the basis for the Judge's ruling or that the Judge gave it great weight in making their decision.

I know it is very frustrating to lose especially when you know you were right. But it is part of life that we don't win every time we face a challenge. Since there is no way to appeal the case, you need to accept the decision now matter how wrong it is an move on.

Keep in mind that our legal system may be tedious and sometimes costly, but it works a whole lot better then the alternative of not having one.

The comments by this author to questions posted on Avvo are designed to foster a general understanding of what might be the law governing the area of the legal problem stated and suggest what might be the approach to finding a legal solution. Under no circumstances is this author acting as the attorney for the party who posted the question or as the attorney for subsequent readers to the question or response and no attorney client relationship is being formed. This attorney's comments are not intended to be a substitute for getting legal advice from a licensed attorney. A reader of this author's comments should never act on the information provided in these comments as though these comments were legal advice and should always seek legal advice in a personal consultation with an attorney in their jurisdiction before taking action. The information provided here is not intended to cover every situation with similar facts. Please remember that the law varies between states and other countries and is always changing through actions of the courts and the Legislature.

Jay Bodzin

Jay Bodzin


Well said. Bear in mind that everyone always thinks they're in the right (and often thinks that the other side is "lying") in a legal dispute.


The rules of evidence are generally the same, but the judges seem more lax in small claims court, especially because most of the people in court wouldn't know the various particular objections to make. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with using photos after an event has occurred.

Tampering with photos and then presenting them as real evidence is a serious crime. But in court, if you wanted to argue that the photos were doctored, you would probably have needed some sort of expert in the area of photography editing.

In every trial-level regular circuit court, every single day, judges make decisions that make one side (or both sides) feel like the judge is getting it wrong on the rules of evidence. I don't think your experience is out of the ordinary.


Please note that I am not licensed in any state other than CA. These statements are for information purposes only and not intended as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship has been created or implied.

That being said, the rules of evidence generally apply to the extent that they do in 'big kids court.' However, the judge is free to admit any evidence that she/he wants to admit or not admit. Objections are entertained. On numerous occassions, I have objected to evidence in a Small Claims appeal (or hadit objected to) and the court asked me how to proceed?! I advised the court that should admit but was free to assign credibility or weight of the evidence. This assumes that the evidence was proper, of course.

From your facts, it is uncertain what EXACTLY happened, but it would seem that the judge entertained the objection, ruled against it, and permitted the evidence. THEN, there was no contradictory evidence submitted that establishes that the evidence you objected was not genuine, or was improper, or...

Your position is a reality of many who are in the Small Claims system. I am sorry to hear of your experience. Please know that even amongst attorney's you are not alone in or emotions about the courts.

If you have more specific questions about Small Claims, contact an attorney that practices in this area near where you are located.

Adam Jaffe Law Office of Adam Jay Jaffe 124 Lomas Santa Fe Dr, #204 Solana Beach, CA 92075 (619) 810-7964 This posting is provided for “information purposes” only and should not be relied upon as "legal advice". Nothing transmitted from this posting constitutes the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. Applicability of the legal principles discussed here may differ substantially in individual situations or in different states.

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