Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Exhibit Definition:

A document or object shown to the court as evidence.

Related Terms: Evidence, Best Evidence Rule, Document

The Fourth Edition of Osborn's Concise Law Dictionary offers this succinct definition of an exhibit:

"Exhibit: a document or thing produced for the inspection of the Court; or shown to a witness when giving evidence or referred to in deposition; or a document referred to in, but not annexed to, an affidavit."

The exhibits are each given a sequential number or letter by the court clerk as they are introduced for future reference during the trial.

For example, weapon are frequently given as exhibits in criminal trials. Videos, when sought to be produced at a hearing, are exhibits.

exhibit stampContrary to Osborn's suggestion (above), made in 1954, in many jurisdictions (such as Canada), attachments to an affidavit are indeed exhibits and are identified as such in the body of the afffidavit as well as certified on the front of each seperate exhibit (see adjacent image as a sample exhibit stamp). Thus, the term is also used to refer to attachments forming part of an affidavit, documents refered to in the body of an affidavit, numbered from 1,2,3 etc., or in letter sequence as in A, B, C, etc.

In his excellent online piece, St. Louis lawyer Evan Schaeffer also reveals the moment that an item thing (such as a document) becomes an exhibit when introduced at trial:

"The groundwork for the use of exhibits at trial should happen long before the trial begins. For all of your trial exhibits, think about authentication, the hearsay rule, and the best evidence rule. Try to establish the foundational elements required for your exhibits before trial by stipulation, with the use of requests for admission, or during evidence depositions. Since these foundational elements depend on the nature of the exhibit and what you are using it for, you'll have to do further research on what the precise elements for each exhibit actually are.

"Once you're at trial, there is no strict requirement that documents, if otherwise admissible, must be sponsored by a particular witness. As a practical matter, however, your documents will almost always come in through your trial witnesses. After the exhibit is marked and a copy has been provided to the judge and the opposing counsel, proceed like this: 'Mr. Witness, I'm handing you what's been marked Exhibit 10 for identification. Have you seen this before?'

"At this point, if the foundational elements have not been stipulated to by your opponent, you will ask the witness questions to establish the foundation, then say: 'The Defendant offers Exhibit 10'.

"The judge will ask if there are any objections. If so, you can state your position and the judge make a ruling. If not, the judge will admit the exhibit. After that, you can use it in further questioning."

Except with special permission of the court, filed exhibits are locked-up in court custody until the trial is over.

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