Types of Exhibits in Court: An Overview

Types of exhibits

In addition to believable witnesses and compelling arguments, evidence is what can help win cases at trial. An item of evidence introduced in a courtroom proceeding is known as an exhibit, and there are several types of exhibits in court to be familiar with:

  • Legal categorization
  • Format
  • Usage 

Importance of Well-Prepared Exhibits

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an exhibit is “physical evidence or documents that are presented in a court proceeding,” but that’s a very short descriptor for a very long potential exhibit list.1

Exhibits entered into evidence must pass admissibility criteria and take on the important task of helping to capture the jury’s attention and sway jurors toward your arguments by helping them: 

  • Absorb key data and draw connections and conclusions from it
  • Imagine and understand events, science, or medical issues
  • Retain information throughout the trial

Collecting and Organizing Exhibits

The discovery phase of trial preparation often means wading through a mountain of depositions, documents, and research before you whittle your exhibit list down to what will be used at trial. 

Gathering Evidence

As you gather relevant evidence, you’ll need to identify how it will be used and what category it falls under. Witness testimony is considered testimonial evidence, but evidence that will be entered as exhibits fall into these two primary legal categories2

  • Real – Weapons, objects that contributed to DNA analysis, and any other physical objects are classified as real evidence. Original documents, x-rays, photographs, or other recordings can also be considered real evidence in addition to tangible objects.
  • Demonstrative – Relevant evidence that supports or clarifies witness testimony is considered demonstrative. 

Further breakdowns include: 

  • Documentary – Evidence discovered in documents of any kind.
  • Illustrative – Demonstrative exhibits created specifically to help jurors comprehend information pertinent to a court case (without any independent probative value) are illustrative. 

Categorizing and Labeling for Clarity

Do you know how to prepare exhibits for court? Creating a detailed inventory is critical not just for admitting exhibits at trial but also to help legal teams keep track of all the data and evidence evaluated during discovery. 

For this, first identify whether an item is: 

  • Electronic
  • Physical
  • Both

Then, record its format and properties. Exhibits may include: 

  • Photographs, either digital or physical
  • Audio or video recordings as digital file types, DVDs, CDs, etc.
  • Transcripts of interviews, interrogations, depositions, text messages, or audio recordings
  • Medical records, x-rays, doctors’ notes
  • Contracts, invoices, receipts, memos, letters, emails
  • Research studies and papers
  • Analysis, reports, summaries, or written statements from witnesses
  • Presentations or interactive exhibits
  • Timelines, graphs, charts, maps, and blueprints
  • Illustrations or sketches
  • Medical illustrations and animations 
  • Courtroom animations or simulations such as car accidents or product defects 
  • 3D models and forensic animations

Along with a detailed inventory, teams can add labels to each item with a unique identifier.3 Note that courts often use numbering to represent plaintiff exhibits and letter coding for defense exhibits.4

Trial-Support-Services

Legal Requirements for Court Exhibits

Not every item of evidence gathered during discovery will be used to support a case either leading up to or during a court trial. This leads to another method of categorization: usage and admittance4

  • Identified – Exhibits marked for identification have been gathered, noted, and deemed pertinent to building a case. 
  • Offered – Exhibits intended to be used at trial are offered to the court to be reviewed for admissibility. 
  • Admitted – If deemed admissible, exhibits are entered into the record and admitted by the judge. 

You can also categorize evidence into5

  • Court exhibits – Used either in a trial or a hearing such as a pretrial evidentiary hearing. 
  • Trial exhibits – Presented during the trial.

Admissibility Standards

In order to be admissible, exhibits need to meet certain criteria. In federal courts, evidence must be6

  • Relevant
  • Not unduly prejudicial
  • Not confusing or misleading
  • Not contain evidence that is privileged
  • Not constitute inadmissible hearsay

Ensuring Compliance with Court Rules

State regulations differ on the fine points of exhibit admissibility, so direct evidence may be required to meet additional guidelines or restrictions depending on the specific court system. 

Additionally, attorneys also need to prove that exhibits meet the admissibility standards, typically in two ways. Evidence must be: 

  1. Authenticated based on origin, chain of custody, or other method
  2. Shown to be free of any alteration that could affect the probative value

U.S. Legal Support Can Help

For nearly 30 years, attorneys at all practice sizes and types have counted on U.S. Legal Support for trial and litigation support services. 

Today, our trial services include the elite trial service and consulting firms TrialEx and DecisionQuest, adding greatly to our combined experience and expertise. 

After supporting more than 20,000 high-risk trials, arbitrations, and mediations, we can plan and create demonstrative exhibits, legal graphics, and animations that can make a difference for your case. From still to interactive deliverables, our team offers photography, videography, animation, illustration, and 3D modeling. 

We also work with a network of 5,000+ court reporters and transcriptionists nationwide and offer litigation consulting, record retrieval and analysis, interpreting and translation services, and more.

Reach out today to discuss your trial exhibit and other litigation support needs. 

Sources: 

  1. U.S. Department of Justice. Legal Terms Glossary. https://www.justice.gov/usao/justice-101/glossary#e
  2. FindLaw. Real and Demonstrative Evidence. https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/criminal-procedure/real-and-demonstrative-evidence.html
  3. One Legal. 6 steps to building your exhibit list and preparing exhibits. https://www.onelegal.com/blog/building-exhibit-list-and-preparing-exhibits/
  4. Law Office of Gerald Oginski. Trial Exhibits: Numbered or Alphabetical? Does It Really Make a Difference? https://www.oginski-law.com/blog/trial-exhibits-numbered-or-alphabetical-whats-difference-.cfm
  5. Legal Seagull. How to Introduce Court Exhibits Into Evidence at Trial. https://thelegalseagull.com/blogs/news/how-to-introduce-court-exhibits-into-evidence-at-trial
  6. Cornell Law School. admissible evidence. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/admissible_evidence
Julie Feller
Julie Feller
Julie Feller is the Vice President of Marketing at U.S. Legal Support where she leads innovative marketing initiatives. With a proven track record in the legal industry, Juie previously served at Abacus Data Systems (now Caret Legal) where she played a pivotal role in providing cutting-edge technology platforms and services to legal professionals nationwide.

Editoral Policy

Content published on the U.S. Legal Support blog is reviewed by professionals in the legal and litigation support services field to help ensure accurate information. The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice for attorneys or clients.