Rule 402 – General Admissibility of Relevant Evidence

Relevant evidence is admissible unless any of the following provides otherwise:

  • the United States Constitution;
  • a federal statute;
  • these rules; or
  • other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court.

Irrelevant evidence is not admissible.

Summary and Explanation

Federal Rule of Evidence 402 establishes the fundamental principles regarding the admissibility of evidence in United States federal courts. This rule is a key component of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

The main points of Rule 402 are:

  1. Admissibility of Relevant Evidence: The rule states that relevant evidence is generally admissible in court. Relevance is determined based on whether the evidence has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and if that fact is of consequence in determining the outcome of the case (as outlined in Rule 401).
  2. Exclusion of Irrelevant Evidence: Conversely, evidence that is not relevant is not admissible. This is because irrelevant evidence does not contribute to proving or disproving any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action.
  3. Exceptions to Admissibility: Even if evidence is relevant, it may still be inadmissible if a specific law or other rules within the Federal Rules of Evidence exclude it. For example, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the risk of causing undue prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, or if it results in unnecessary delay or a waste of time.
  4. Simplifying the Court Process: By setting clear standards for what is admissible, Rule 402 helps to streamline court proceedings, ensuring that only pertinent and meaningful evidence is presented, thereby aiding in the efficiency of the trial process.

Federal Rule of Evidence 402 delineates the admissibility of evidence in federal court, primarily based on relevance. Relevant evidence is generally admissible unless a specific law or rule dictates otherwise. This rule plays a crucial role in ensuring that court proceedings focus on evidence that is pertinent to the case at hand.


(Pub. L. 93–595, §1, Jan. 2, 1975, 88 Stat. 1931; Apr. 26, 2011, eff. Dec. 1, 2011.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Proposed Rules

The provisions that all relevant evidence is admissible, with certain exceptions, and that evidence which is not relevant is not admissible are “a presupposition involved in the very conception of a rational system of evidence.” Thayer, Preliminary Treatise on Evidence 264 (1898). They constitute the foundation upon which the structure of admission and exclusion rests. For similar provisions see California Evidence Code §§350, 351. Provisions that all relevant evidence is admissible are found in Uniform Rule 7(f); Kansas Code of Civil Procedure §60–407(f); and New Jersey Evidence Rule 7(f); but the exclusion of evidence which is not relevant is left to implication.

Not all relevant evidence is admissible. The exclusion of relevant evidence occurs in a variety of situations and may be called for by these rules, by the Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure, by Bankruptcy Rules, by Act of Congress, or by constitutional considerations.

Succeeding rules in the present article, in response to the demands of particular policies, require the exclusion of evidence despite its relevancy. In addition, Article V recognizes a number of privileges; Article VI imposes limitations upon witnesses and the manner of dealing with them; Article VII specifies requirements with respect to opinions and expert testimony; Article VIII excludes hearsay not falling within an exception; Article IX spells out the handling of authentication and identification; and Article X restricts the manner of proving the contents of writings and recordings.

The Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure in some instances require the exclusion of relevant evidence. For example, Rules 30(b) and 32(a)(3) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, by imposing requirements of notice and unavailability of the deponent, place limits on the use of relevant depositions. Similarly, Rule 15 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure restricts the use of depositions in criminal cases, even though relevant. And the effective enforcement of the command, originally statutory and now found in Rule 5(a) of the Rules of Criminal Procedure, that an arrested person be taken without unnecessary delay before a commissioner of other similar officer is held to require the exclusion of statements elicited during detention in violation thereof. Mallory v. United States, 354 U.S. 449, 77 S.Ct. 1356, 1 L.Ed.2d 1479 (1957); 18 U.S.C. §3501(c).

While congressional enactments in the field of evidence have generally tended to expand admissibility beyond the scope of the common law rules, in some particular situations they have restricted the admissibility of relevant evidence. Most of this legislation has consisted of the formulation of a privilege or of a prohibition against disclosure. 8 U.S.C. §1202(f), records of refusal of visas or permits to enter United States confidential, subject to discretion of Secretary of State to make available to court upon certification of need; 10 U.S.C. §3693, replacement certificate of honorable discharge from Army not admissible in evidence; 10 U.S.C. §8693, same as to Air Force; 11 U.S.C. §25(a) (10), testimony given by bankrupt on his examination not admissible in criminal proceedings against him, except that given in hearing upon objection to discharge; 11 U.S.C. §205(a), railroad reorganization petition, if dismissed, not admissible in evidence; 11 U.S.C. §403(a), list of creditors filed with municipal composition plan not an admission; 13 U.S.C. §9(a), census information confidential, retained copies of reports privileged; 47 U.S.C. §605, interception and divulgence of wire or radio communications prohibited unless authorized by sender. These statutory provisions would remain undisturbed by the rules.

The rule recognizes but makes no attempt to spell out the constitutional considerations which impose basic limitations upon the admissibility of relevant evidence. Examples are evidence obtained by unlawful search and seizure, Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652 (1914); Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967); incriminating statement elicited from an accused in violation of right to counsel, Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201, 84 S.Ct. 1199, 12 L.Ed.2d 246 (1964).

Notes of Committee on the Judiciary, House Report No. 93–650

Rule 402 as submitted to the Congress contained the phrase “or by other rules adopted by the Supreme Court”. To accommodate the view that the Congress should not appear to acquiesce in the Court’s judgment that it has authority under the existing Rules Enabling Acts to promulgate Rules of Evidence, the Committee amended the above phrase to read “or by other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court pursuant to statutory authority” in this and other Rules where the reference appears.

Committee Notes on Rules—2011 Amendment

The language of Rule 402 has been amended as part of the restyling of the Evidence Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only. There is no intent to change any result in any ruling on evidence admissibility.

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