Conventional wisdom amongst lawyers holds that Judges can better disregard inadmissible evidence when rendering a verdict. Any time there is evidence that is not permitted to be presented to the fact finder, the Judge must make that ruling and therefore must see the evidence. Similarly, sometimes the inadmissible evidence is blurted out in court before an objection is lodged. The jury hears the evidence but is then instructed not to consider that evidence in rendering its verdict. These principles are true across the nation, in Pennsylvania, and in Montgomery County and Bucks County where most of our cases are.
In a 1994 study by Landsman and Rakos, it was determined that Judges do no better at disregarding inadmissible evidence than jurors do. Eighty eight Judges and 104 jurors were told the details of a case, including inadmissible evidence. Portions were then advised not to consider, or to consider the inadmissible evidence. The most suprising result of the study was that the Judges were more swayed by the inadmissible evidence than the jurors. Something to keep in mind the next time you are weighing whether to try a case to a Judge or jury. Perhaps more importantly, this shows that lawyers need to combat that already inadmissible evidence in their case instead of just ignoring it because it won’t be considered. The ultimate decision factor, as always, is to know your Judge. While the study was an eye-opener, nothing is more important than solid knowledge or the Judge’s personality.