The Difference A Good Lawyer Can Make

What Is Materiality in Criminal Law?

Whenever the state brings a criminal case against a person, that individual has the right to question numerous aspects of the allegations. One of the most important factors, especially in the early stages of a case, is materiality. Here is what materiality is and why it might matter in your case.


Everything that happens in a criminal case needs to be material. This means the various bits of the case have to be legally relevant to the question of whether or not a defendant committed a crime. More importantly, the bits of the case have to be material to the question of whether the defendant committed any of the specific crimes as the state has charged them.


The materiality of evidence is particularly important. A prosecutor isn't supposed to throw endless reams of evidence at a defendant. If the state has charged someone with felony assault and battery, the prosecution has to explain why the introduced evidence has any bearing on the question of whether a crime occurred.

Prosecutors aren't supposed to dig endlessly for immaterial evidence, and a criminal defense attorney can ask the court to prohibit it if the state seems to be doing so. This is important because it provides one potential argument among several for why the court should allow something to enter the case as evidence. If you own two guns, the prosecution can't just say that proves you committed a gun crime. The prosecutors have to show that they can tie a particular weapon to an event that occurred in the sequence of events that led to a crime. Otherwise, the evidence is immaterial and shouldn't appear in the case.


Likewise, you have the right to question the materiality of testimony. The same logic applies. Even if a witness says something that's 100% true, the state might have zero bearing on the case. Consequently, a criminal defense lawyer may ask the judge to bar the testimony on the grounds that it's immaterial.


Search and arrest warrants often underpin the early parts of a case. If your criminal defense attorney has questions about how the state obtained a search warrant, they may look at material statements from the cops or prosecutors. When the state seeks a warrant, it has to declare what it aims to achieve. The warrant has to be limited in scope and only cover material issues. If a cop's affidavit supporting a search includes immaterial statements, a criminal defense lawyer will ask the court to bar any obtained evidence.