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Survey Article


This survey marks the fifteenth year the author has surveyed Eleventh Circuit evidence decisions. This survey year saw the continuation of what has become a clear trend in Eleventh Circuit evidence decisions. In stark contrast to the days when the Eleventh Circuit, and other courts, rigorously examined district court evidentiary decisions and freely reversed those decisions, the Eleventh Circuit now carefully defers to district judges. The reason for this trend can be debated. Perhaps, given that most evidentiary issues addressed by the Eleventh Circuit arise in the context of criminal cases, Eleventh Circuit judges are today more conservative and thus less likely to reverse criminal convictions, particularly on evidentiary grounds. Or, perhaps it is that the abuse of discretion standard of review, which governs evidentiary issues, mandates deference to district judges, something that "activist" judges ignored. The answer no doubt depends on one's perspective. One thing, however, is clear-do not expect the Eleventh Circuit to flyspeck district court evidentiary rulings.

A number of amendments to the Federal Rules of Evidence became effective December 1, 2000. Amended Rule 103 may provide needed clarity to the circumstances requiring a party to renew an objection or to make an additional offer of proof. The new Rule provides that "[olnce the court makes a definitive ruling on the record admitting or excluding evidence, either at or before trial, a party need not renew an objection or offer of proof to preserve a claim of error for appeal." Thus, if a court grants a motion in limine to exclude evidence, and assuming the party wishing to propound the evidence made an adequate offer of proof, that party need not make a further offer of proof at trial. Similarly, if the trial court denies the motion in limine and rules that the evidence will be admissible at trial, the party seeking to exclude that evidence need not object at trial when the evidence is tendered. The same is true of continuing objections during trial; they are no longer necessary.

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