What Are the Federal Rules of Evidence?

While the Federal Rules of Evidence apply only in federal court, many states base their rules of evidence on the federal system. Knowing the federal rules can give you a broad understanding of what rules you'll find in your state courts.

Each area of law has its respective governing rules. Civil procedure has the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, while criminal procedure has the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Parties need evidence to make or break a case in civil and criminal cases.

The Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) and their amendments created a uniform system across all federal courts on the admission and exclusion of evidence in civil and criminal proceedings. There were rules of evidence before 1975, but not all federal courts used the same rules or applied them evenly.

So, what are the rules of evidence in federal court? Below is a table of contents that shows the eleven sections of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

  • Article I, General Provisions: FRE 101-106
  • Article II, Judicial Notice: FRE 201
  • Article III, Presumptions in Civil Actions and Proceedings: FRE 301 - 302
  • Article IV, Relevancy and Its Limits: FRE 401-415
  • Article V, Privileges: FRE 501-502
  • Article VI, Witnesses: FRE 601-615
  • Article VII, Opinions and Expert Testimony: FRE 701-706
  • Article VIII, Hearsay: FRE 801-807
  • Article IX, Authentication and Identification: FRE 901-903
  • Article X, Contents of Writings, Recordings, and Photographs: FRE 1001 -1008
  • Article XI, Miscellaneous Rules: FRE 1101-1103

General Provisions

Article 1 covers:

  • Rule 101. Scope; Definitions
  • Rule 102. Purpose
  • Rule 103. Rulings on Evidence
  • Rule 104. Preliminary Questions
  • Rule 105. Limiting Evidence That Is Not Admissible Against Other Parties or for Other Purposes
  • Rule 106. Remainder of or Related Writings or Recorded Statements

The general provisions section of the Federal Rules of Evidence gives information about the rules and how to object to the admissibility or exclusion of evidence. It guides judges on preliminary questions and courtroom procedures.

Judicial Notice

Article 2 covers FRE 201: Judicial Notice of Adjudicative Facts.

There are certain documents or writings that the court may, at the request of a party or the court's own volition, accept into evidence without the need to lay a foundation or authenticate. This is judicial notice. The typical subject for judicial notice is either rulings on pleadings or legislative laws, but any fact that's generally known and can be accurately determined can be judicially noticed. For instance, the weather on a given day can be judicially noticed.

Presumptions in Civil Actions and Proceedings

Article 3 covers Rule 301: Presumptions in Civil Cases Generally and Rule 302: Applying State Law to Presumptions in Civil Cases.

Presumptions are a powerful tool that courts use to determine which party in a court case must prove a particular fact. Presumption applies in civil cases and stems from federal and state statutes. For instance, a state statute might say that the fact that an injury occurred is presumptive proof that a certain party was negligent. It would then be up to the presumed negligent party to prove that they were not negligent.

Relevancy and Its Limits

Article 4 covers:

  • Rule 401. Test for Relevant Evidence
  • Rule 402. General Admissibility of Relevant Evidence
  • Rule 403. Excluding Relevant Evidence for Prejudice, Confusion, Waste of Time, or Other Reasons
  • Rule 404. Character Evidence; Other Crimes, Wrongs, or Acts
  • Rule 405. Methods of Proving Character
  • Rule 406. Habit; Routine Practice
  • Rule 407. Subsequent Remedial Measures
  • Rule 408. Compromise Offers and Negotiations
  • Rule 409. Offers to Pay Medical and Similar Expenses
  • Rule 410. Pleas, Plea Discussions, and Related Statements
  • Rule 411. Liability Insurance
  • Rule 412. Sex-Offense Cases: The Victim's Sexual Behavior or Predisposition
  • Rule 413. Similar Crimes in Sexual Assault Cases
  • Rule 414. Similar Crimes in Child Molestation Cases
  • Rule 415. Similar Acts in Civil Cases Involving Sexual Assault or Child Molestation

Attorneys can't admit evidence in a court proceeding unless it's relevant to one or more of the facts of the case. Evidence is relevant if it tends to determine the validity of an important fact in the case. For instance, evidence that someone saw the defendant at the scene of a fire moments before the fire broke out shows that the defendant may have started the fire.

Just because evidence is relevant doesn't mean a judge will admit it. There are provisions in the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, and other rules that prevent the admission of certain kinds of evidence, regardless of its relevance. Further, the court may exclude relevant evidence if it's unduly prejudicial, would confuse the jury, is a waste of time, or for some other reason the court deems appropriate.


Article 5 covers Rule 501. Privilege in General and Rule 502. Attorney-Client Privilege and Work Product; Limitations on Waiver.

The most well-known privilege is that of attorney-client, which holds that an attorney can't reveal the confidential communications of their client in most circumstances. But the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, and Supreme Court rules define other privileges. Examples include communications of a husband and wife, a psychotherapist-patient, and a person to a clergyman. If a statute provides a right not to disclose information, then it's privileged. The person doesn't have to disclose it unless they waive the privilege.


Article 6 covers:

  • Rule 601. Competency to Testify in General
  • Rule 602. Need for Personal Knowledge
  • Rule 603. Oath or Affirmation to Testify Truthfully
  • Rule 604. Interpreter
  • Rule 605. Judge's Competency as a Witness
  • Rule 606. Juror's Competency as a Witness
  • Rule 607. Who May Impeach a Witness
  • Rule 608. A Witness's Character for Truthfulness or Untruthfulness
  • Rule 609. Impeachment by Evidence of a Criminal Conviction
  • Rule 610. Religious Beliefs or Opinions
  • Rule 611. Mode and Order of Examining Witnesses and Presenting Evidence
  • Rule 612. Writing Used to Refresh a Witness's Memory
  • Rule 613. Witness's Prior Statement
  • Rule 614. Court's Calling or Examining a Witness
  • Rule 615. Excluding Witnesses

The FRE contains requirements on who's a proper witness and what they may testify about. To testify in federal court, a witness must be competent and testify about only information for which they have personal knowledge. The rules also provide for challenging the competency and credibility of the witness.

Opinions and Expert Testimony

Article 7 covers:

  • Rule 701. Opinion Testimony by Lay Witnesses
  • Rule 702. Testimony by Expert Witnesses
  • Rule 703. Bases of an Expert's Opinion Testimony
  • Rule 704. Opinion on an Ultimate Issue
  • Rule 705. Disclosing the Facts or Data Underlying an Expert's Opinion
  • Rule 706. Court-Appointed Expert Witnesses

Generally, when it comes to experts and opinion testimony, witnesses may testify only about facts they know personally. But, they can offer a lay opinion if it's based on their observations and helps understand a fact at issue. For instance, a witness can offer an opinion about their distance from something they saw.

If the opinion for evidence isn't something the witness personally saw, an expert witness with the necessary knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education must present the evidence.


Article 8 covers:

  • Rule 801. Definitions That Apply to This Article; Exclusions from Hearsay
  • Rule 802. The Rule Against Hearsay
  • Rule 803. Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay — Regardless of Whether the Declarant Is Available as a Witness
  • Rule 804. Hearsay Exceptions; Declarant Unavailable
  • Rule 805. Hearsay Within Hearsay
  • Rule 806. Attacking and Supporting the Declarant's Credibility
  • Rule 807. Residual Exception

The FRE excludes the introduction of hearsay evidence unless one of the exceptions applies. Hearsay is essentially gossip offered as proof that something is true. For instance, Sally wants to testify that Jack murdered Sue. This is because Sally heard Fred say that he saw Jack do it. The court will exclude Sally's testimony as hearsay. But, there are exclusions from the hearsay rule, including one that covers prior statements made by witnesses. If evidence falls into an exclusion, the hearsay rule does not apply.

There are also 24 exceptions to the prohibition of offering hearsay testimony. One is a catch-all exception that allows for judicial discretion in determining if an exception should apply to a case. Some common hearsay exceptions are statements made while an event occurred and statements in business records.

Authentication and Identification

Article 9:

  • Rule 901. Authenticating or Identifying Evidence
  • Rule 902. Evidence That Is Self-Authenticating
  • Rule 903. Subscribing Witness's Testimony

Courts only want to admit items into evidence where there is a reasonable certainty that the item is what it's claimed to be. Any item one party wants to enter into evidence will need a witness or an expert to identify and vouch for its authenticity in court.

Contents of Writings, Recordings, and Photographs

Article 10 covers:

  • Rule 1001. Definitions That Apply to This Article
  • Rule 1002. Requirement of the Original
  • Rule 1003. Admissibility of Duplicates
  • Rule 1004. Admissibility of Other Evidence of Content
  • Rule 1005. Copies of Public Records to Prove Content
  • Rule 1006. Summaries to Prove Content
  • Rule 1007. Testimony or Statement of a Party to Prove Content
  • Rule 1008. Functions of the Court and Jury

The FRE requires that documentary evidence such as writings, recordings, and photographs not only get authenticated by a witness or expert, but they must be original unless the rules allow the use of a copy. There are exceptions if the original got destroyed or the copy isn't provided to prove the content of the original record.

Miscellaneous Rules

Article 11 covers:

  • Rule 1101. Applicability of the Rules
  • Rule 1102. Amendments
  • Rule 1103. Title

The miscellaneous section states that these rules of evidence apply in all federal courts in criminal and civil cases. The miscellaneous rules state the exceptions for claims of privilege do not apply in grand jury proceedings and certain other miscellaneous proceedings. Finally, this section gives a federal judge discretion in admitting or excluding evidence independently from the FRE if the judge deems it necessary.

What Are the Rules of Evidence That Apply to Your Case? Ask an Attorney

Court cases are won or lost based on the evidence the court admits or excludes. Contact a criminal defense attorney near you today to learn more.

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