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Vail Law: Looking for ‘relevance’ in the law

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

Let’s get metaphysical. What is relevant or, on a broader scale, what is relevance itself?

Metaphysics is abstruse or abstract reasoning. So let’s engage in some. “Relevance” may be defined as that which is relevant. “Relevant” itself ” the subject of our abstruse reasoning here ” means bearing upon or relating to the matter in hand. Nice, simple concept.

For example, if the subject is the Super Bowl just passed and I talk about my pilling argyle socks, my comments, beside inviting slack-jawed stares, would be irrelevant. But if my commentary offered insightful tidbits about Peyton Manning’s rocket arm, my thoughts, however unwelcome by downcast Bears’ aficionados drowning in their Skittles and Pabst, would be relevant.



What then about the legal metaphysics of relevance? Pull up a chair. “Relevancy” in the law is similar to the real world meaning of the word. Put in context, “relevancy” pertains to evidence and “evidence,” my friends, is that which is used to prove or disprove a fact at trial.

Relevancy is that quality of evidence which renders it properly applicable in determining the truth or falsity of the matters in issues between the parties to a suit.



Let’s borrow an example from the police blotter. Say the matter to be proved is that a presumed bad actor is charged with stealing money from a bank. Let’s say the accused is a New Zealander living temporarily in Happy Valley who has taken a year away from home to work and, on his off day, before he hits the slopes, pulls out a BB gun and robs the bank where he generally cashes his paychecks. For ease of identification, let’s call him Dumber.

Let’s say Dumber’s branch bank is robbed one glorious, blue-skied Vail morning. Let’s say, too, that the weapon wagged beneath the teller’s nose is a B-B gun of a particular model. Let’s also say the when the cash is handed over, the bag in which the would-be loot resides has one of those explosive ink packs of which banks have grown fond. Let’s call this group of facts “Fact Package One.”

Just 10 minutes post-heist, Dumber flashes his ski pass to a lift operator. The liftie notes that Dumber has what seems to be squid ink on his face, neck and hands. A suspicious bulge, the size and shape of a bag of loot curves from his back like a camel who has just had his fill. In the place where the Dromedary hump resides, an ink stain is spreading in a widening pool from Dumber’s parka. Fumbling nervously, Dumber tries to gain traction through the lift line with a pole in his left hand and a BB gun in his right. Let’s call this “Fact Package Two.”



Later in the day, after viewing the bank’s closed circuit video and interviewing the teller, the local constabulary determines that Dumber just might be their man. They track him down on Ghengis by following inky dribbles in the snow. Dumber gets a free escort to the Eagle County jail, is charged and, weeks later, goes on trial. Fact Package One is introduced as evidence at trial. When it comes time to introduce Fact Package Two, defense counsel leaps to his feet protesting that the proffered evidence has no relevance.

Remember, two facts may be said to be relevant to each other when so related that, according to the common course of events, one either taken by itself or in connection with other facts, proves or renders probable the past, present, or future existence or non-existence of the other. What the People are trying to prove here is that Dumber robbed the bank that fine winter’s day before hitting the slopes.

The Judge mulls. Defense counsel stammers. The prosecuting attorney swallows like a Cheshire Cat. Is Fact Package Two relevant? Is it so related to Fact Package One that, taken together according to the common course of events, they make it more probable that Dumber robbed the bank?

If you said yes, congratulations.

It is perhaps axiomatic that only relevant evidence is permitted at trial. Say for example, the People wished to admit evidence that Dumber was suffering a crippling case of hiccoughs when the liftie scanned his pass. Unless exploding ink packs induce acute hiccoughing or it can be shown that hiccoughs have their genesis in nervous or culpable states, evidence of our friend’s hiccoughs would likely be irrelevant.

The concept is this; that which when bound to something else naturally tends to provide a meaningful fact is relevant. That which does not is not.

Gotta go now; my argyle socks are itching madly…

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.”

To reach Robbins, call 926-4461 or at his e-mail address: robbins@colorado.net


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