Ballou v. Henri Studios, Inc.

656 F.2d 1147 (5th Cir. 1981).

One-Sentence Takeaway: Under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, a judge should determine probative value of proposed evidence if true and weigh that probative value against danger of unfair prejudice, leaving to jury difficult choice of whether to credit evidence as true and reliable.

Summary: In a diversity action filed with the federal district court, Plaintiff alleged that due to the negligence of Defendant’s employee driver, Plaintiff’s husband was killed in the accident.

Defendant planned to introduce into evidence results of the blood test of the husband taken  shortly after his death showing that the husband was drunk.  Plaintiff moved in limine to preclude the test results and in support of the motion, Plaintiff presented the testimony of a nurse that the husband wasn’t drunk.  The trial judge excluded the blood test as unreliable evidence pursuant to Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

The court of appeals reversed.  The court reasoned that, while under Rule 403, the trial judge has discretion to exclude evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice, the issue regarding credibility of the offered evidence remains one for the jury to determine.  In applying the Rule 403 analysis, the trial judge has to ask himself that if the evidence is believed by a jury, would its probative value be substantially outweighed by its likelihood of causing unfair prejudice.

Here, the trial judge stepped beyond the foregoing when he determined the credibility and reliability of the evidence.  It was for the jury to decide whether the test results were credible and reliable in light of the testimony from the nurse.  Rule 403 did not empower the trial judge to make that determination.

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