The committee members included:
|Chief Justice Earl Warren||U.S. Supreme Court|
|Albert E. Jenner||Lawyer||Chicago, IL|
|David Berger||Lawyer||Philadelphia, PA|
|Hicks Epton||Lawyer||Wewoka, OK|
|Egbert Haywood||Lawyer||Durham, NC|
|Frank Raichle||Lawyer||Buffalo, NY|
|Herman Selvin||Lawyer||Los Angeles, CA|
|Craig Spangenbert||Lawyer||Cleveland, OH|
|Edward Bennett Williams||Lawyer||Washington, D.C.|
|Thomas F. Green, Jr.||Professor||University of Georgia|
|Charles W. Joiner||Professor||University of Michigan|
|Jack Weinstein||Professor||Columbia University|
|Edward W. Cleary||Professor||University of Illinois|
|Judge Simon E. Sobeloff||U.S. Court of Appeals||Maryland|
|Judge Joe E. Estes||U.S. District Court||Texas|
|Judge Robert Van Pelt||U.S. District Court||Nebraska|
The Federal Rules of Evidence began as rules proposed pursuant to a statutory grant of authority, the Rules Enabling Act, but were eventually passed as statutory laws.
The United States Supreme Court circulated drafts of the FRE in 1969, 1971 and 1972, but Congress then exercised its power under the Rules Enabling Act to suspend implementation of the FRE until it could study them further. After a long delay blamed on the Watergate scandal, the FRE became federal law on January 2, 1975, when the President signed the Act to Establish Rules of Evidence for Certain Courts and Proceedings, , .
The law was enacted only after Congress made a series of modifications to the proposed rules. Some of the most prominent congressional amendments when Congress adopted the rules included:
The Advisory Committee Notes still function as an important source of material courts use to interpret the Rules.
Even though the Federal Rules of Evidence are statutory, the Supreme Court is empowered to amend the Rules, subject to congressional disapproval. However, amendments creating, abolishing, or modifying privileges require affirmative approval by Congress under .
At the same time, the Rules center on a few basic ideas relevance, unfair surprise, efficiency, reliability, and overall fairness of the adversary process. The Rules grant trial judges broad discretion to admit evidence in the face of competing arguments from the parties. This ensures that the jury has a broad spectrum of evidence before it, but not so much evidence that is repetitive, inflammatory, or unnecessarily confusing. The Rules define relevance broadly and relax the common-law prohibitions on witnesses' competence to testify. Hearsay standards are similarly relaxed, as are the standards for authenticating written documents. At the same time, the judge retains power to exclude evidence that has too great a danger for unfair prejudice to a party due to its inflammatory, repetitive, or confusing nature or its propensity to waste the court's time.
There are 67 individually numbered rules, divided among 11 articles:
The Rules embody some very common concepts, and lawyers frequently refer to those concepts by the rule number. The most important concept the balancing of relevance against other competing interests is embodied in Rule 403.
Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
The basic rule regarding inferences the jury may draw from particular testimony is Rule 404.
Other common-law concepts with previously amorphous limits have been more clearly delineated. This is especially true regarding hearsay evidence. Among scholars and in historical judicial decisions, four related definitions of "hearsay" emerged, and the various exceptions and exemptions flowed from the particular definition preferred by the scholar or court. The Federal Rules of Evidence settled on one of these four definitions and then fixed the various exceptions and exemptions in relation to the preferred definition of hearsay.
On the other hand, the law of privileges remains a creature of federal common law under the Rules, rather than the subject of judicial interpretation of the text of the rule. Just as the Uniform Rules of Evidence had, the advisory committee draft of the rules that the Supreme Court formally transmitted to Congress codified nine evidentiary privileges required reports, attorney-client, psychotherapist-patient, husband-wife, communications to clergymen, political vote, trade secrets, official secrets, and identity of informer. When debate over the privileges included in the proposed Rules threatened to delay adoption of the Rules in their entirety, Congress replaced the proposed codified privileges with what became Rule 501.
Except as otherwise required by the Constitution of the United States or provided by Act of Congress or in rules prescribed by the Supreme Court pursuant to statutory authority, the privilege of a witness, person, government, State, or political subdivision thereof shall be governed by the principles of the common law as they may be interpreted by the courts of the United States in the light of reason and experience. However, in civil actions and proceedings, with respect to an element of a claim or defense as to which State law supplies the rule of decision, the privilege of a witness, person, government, State, or political subdivision thereof shall be determined in accordance with State law.The scope of the privileges under the Rules thus is the subject of federal common law, except in those situations where state law supplies the rule to be applied. Accordingly, the Supreme Court is ultimately responsible for determining which privileges exist. In the years since the adoption of the Rules, the Court has both expressly adopted a privilege, in Jaffee v. Redmond, , and expressly declined to adopt a privilege, in University of Pennsylvania v. EEOC, .