Effective January 2013, the Georgia General Assembly enacted a new Evidence Code modeled after the Federal Rules of Evidence. Since then, Georgia courts have wrestled with how to interpret Georgia’s Evidence Code and what to do with the body of earlier case law addressing evidence issues. The Georgia Supreme Court recently confronted this issue in Chrysler Group, LLC n/k/a FCA US LLC v. Walden, Case No. S17G0832 (decided March 15, 2018).
The case arose out of a personal injury judgment entered against Chrysler. The specific issue the Supreme Court confronted was the admission into evidence of the annual compensation of Chrysler’s CEO. The Supreme Court looked at the issue of whether evidence of the CEO’s compensation was admissible to suggest the bias of the witness.
First, the Court looked at the issue of how Georgia’s rules defining relevance (Rule 401) and unfair prejudice (Rule 403) interacted with the other rules defining admissible evidence. The Court concluded that those rules “overlay the entire Evidence Code and are generally applicable to all evidence that a party seeks to present.” Opinion, p. 9. The Court then looked at Rule 622 which allows the admission into evidence of “a witness’s feelings towards the parties and relationship to [them].” Such evidence can tend to show the bias of a witness. The Court concluded that the admission of evidence under Rule 622 was limited by Rule 403’s prohibition against unfairly prejudicial evidence.
The Court then held that Georgia’s common law rule that prohibited evidence of the worldly circumstances of the parties did not survive the adoption of Georgia’s Evidence Code. Such evidence needed to be evaluated under the new rules defining relevance and unfair prejudice. Opinion, p. 15.
The Court next concluded, however, that Chrysler had not made a proper objection under Rule 403. Evaluating the admission of the evidence under a plain error standard, the Court concluded that it could find no plain error in the admission of the CEO’s compensation as evidence.
This opinion offers a useful roadmap for attorneys to consider how Georgia’s new Evidence Code interacts with the existing body of case law regarding the evidence rules. Further, the decision reinforces the need for parties to make a properly-phrased objection to preserve an issue for appellate review.
The Opinion is available here.