Representing Yourself in Court : Evidence

What is evidence?

Evidence is anything you use to prove your claim. Evidence can be a photograph, a letter, documents or records from a business, and a variety of other things. All evidence that is properly admitted will be considered by the judge.

Your case probably will be decided by a judge. If there is a jury, it will look at admitted exhibits during its deliberations.

For example:

  • In a request for change of custody, the child’s school records could be introduced as evidence that the child’s grades have dropped or he/she has missed a significant amount of school while living with the other parent.

  • In a domestic violence or stalking civil protection order case, a photograph of any injury you suffered or a threatening letter written by your abuser may help your case.

  • In a divorce case, a copy of tax return documents or documents showing who has title to a car may be introduced as evidence.

For more information about representing yourself in court, see the Ohio State Bar Foundation Keys to the Courtroom brochure.

Why use evidence?

  • Evidence is more believable and trustworthy than what a person says. For example, in a domestic violence case, if you say that your ex-boyfriend has left you threatening messages but he testifies that this is an absolute lie, the judge may not know whom to believe. However, if you submit a tape recording of one of these messages, the judge will be more likely to believe you.

  • Evidence may make something easier to understand. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Some things are hard to explain in words, while a drawing or photograph is descriptive and clear.

How do I present evidence to the Court?

Each court is different, but in most courts, you can’t just walk into court with a photograph or document and show it to the judge or jury. There are many things you must do before the court will even look at the evidence you have. Further, there are many different types of evidence, and the rules for using each type of evidence are different. Once you follow these rules, your evidence will be “admitted."

Steps to follow to admit evidence

  1. Before you go to court, think about the evidence you want to use to prove your case. Mark each piece of evidence with an exhibit number (attach a sticker labeled “Exhibit 1,” “Exhibit 2,” etc.)

  1. Bring these marked exhibits with you to court. When you want to show the court one of the exhibits, do the following things:

    1. Show the exhibit to the other party or the other party’s attorney.

    2. Then “lay the foundation” for the evidence. To do this, you must show that the evidence is relevant to your case and authentic (not a forgery). Depending upon what you want the court to consider, follow the rules listed in this pamphlet for “laying the foundation” - explaining why and how the exhibit is connected to your case.

    3. Either you or your witness must testify about the exhibit.

    4. Ask the court to admit the exhibit into evidence. The other party or attorney may object to the exhibit for some reason. Try to answer these objections as best you can. If you can’t, let the judge decide.

    5. If there are no objections from the other party, or the judge has ruled in your favor, ask the court to “admit the exhibit into evidence.”

Motion in limine

Is a motion made at the start of a trial requesting that the judge rule that certain evidence may not be introduced in trial. This is most common in criminal trials where evidence is subject to constitutional limitations, such as statements made without the Miranda warnings (reading the suspect his/her rights).

Laying the foundation for photographs

  1. Explain why a photo is connected to your case. For example: “This photo shows the injury I suffered after my ex-boyfriend punched and kicked me.”

  2. Explain how you know about what is in the photo. For example: “I had my sister take this photograph within 2 hours after the incident occurred and went to get the film developed myself the following day.”

  3. Explain that the photo is timely. For example: “At the bottom right-hand corner of the photo is the date on which it was taken. As you can see, the photo was taken on the same day that the incident occurred, which is also the same day the police arrested my ex-boyfriend.”

  4. Explain that the photo “fairly and accurately” shows what is depicted in the photo as it appeared on the date relevant to your case. For example: “This photo is a fair and accurate depiction of how my face and side looked two hours after the incident and for the next 2 weeks.”

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When using photographs, it is best to use color photos and enlarge them, if possible.

Foundation for letters

  1. Explain why the letter is connected to your case. For example: “This is the letter that I received from my ex-boyfriend shortly before he beat me up."

  2. Explain when and how you got the letter. For example: “This letter was shoved under the door to my apartment some time before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, January 2, 2001. I found it on the floor when I came home from work that day.”

  3. Prove that the signature is that of a party to the case. Ways to prove this:

    • Explain to the court that you are familiar with the other party’s signature, how you came to know that person’s signature, and that it is your opinion that the signature on the letter is the other party’s signature.

    • Call a witness who is familiar with the party’s signature, and ask the witness:

      "Do you know the other party in this case? Are you familiar with the party’s signature? How?” Then show them the letter and ask “Is this the other party’s signature?”

    • Call the person who signed the letter. Show the witness the document, and ask the witness if that is his or her signature. Only do this if you think they will admit to it.

  1. Explain that the letter is in the same condition now as when you received it. For example, state “The letter was kept in a safe place and nothing has been changed since I received it.”

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Do not read anything from the letter until the court has admitted it into evidence.

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If the other party objects to the letter saying that it is hearsay, respond by saying: “The letter shows the letter writer’s state of mind.”

Laying the foundation for documents and records from businesses

  1. Explain how the document or record is related to your case.

  2. Call a witness from the business/agency that produced the record, ask the witness what his or her responsibilities are at the business/agency and how he or she is involved in keeping records.

  3. Show the witness the record and ask him/her if it is a record from the business/agency.

  4. Ask the witness:

    • Was the record made by a person with knowledge of the acts or events appearing on it?

    • Was the record made at or near the time of the acts or events appearing on it?

    • Is it the regular practice of the business/agency to make such a record?

    • Was the record kept in the course of a regularly conducted business activity?

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If the record is certified (a statement is attached to the record stating that it is in fact a record from a public agency or it has an agency seal on it) you do not need to do anything before you show it to the judge. Just let the judge know it is certified.


See also the Forms & Education tab in this section for more information.

The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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