Book Review: The Law of Evidence
I am very excited to have received a review copy of Professor Jeffrey Bellin's newest casebook on the rules of evidence: "The Law of Evidence." While I usually review legal books, this casebook does an extremely impressive job of delivering for students. The context is clear and the price is affordable.
The Law of Evidence is structured in a straightforward and easy to understand way so that the rules of evidence aren't overwhelming and the reader isn't bogged down in too many rules. Each chapter focuses on a main area of evidence and follows in a coherent pattern:
Chapter 1: Stipulations and Judicial Notice
Chapter 2: Relevance
Chapter 3: Unfair Prejudice
Chapter 4: Character Evidence
Chapter 5: Lay and Expert Opinions
Chapter 6: Hearsay
Chapter 7: Constitutional Evidence Rules
Chapter 8: Authentication and Best Evidence
Chapter 9: Policy-Based Rules
Chapter 10: Privileges
Bellin explains from the very beginning the goal of his casebook: to teach students the substance of the rules of evidence. As a former prosecutor and trial judge, the structure of this book is exactly how I believe the rules should be taught so that students can get a deep understanding of the rules without getting lost in the weeds.
Besides the overall structure of the casebook, the contents of each chapter provide an extremely useful and pragmatic approach to the rules. The difficulty with the rules of evidence, among many things, is that the specific rule can be complex and the case law interpreting it is either not clear or there are too many old cases using older legal jargon. However, Bellin has structured each chapter in a way that provides readers with a clear understanding of the rule and its purpose right at the outset. By simplifying the rule and explaining it clearly from the beginning, readers can then begin their analysis and learning of its application. And following the explanation of the rule, Bellin provides great problems that readers can work through. What I like so much about these problems is that they are A.) easy to follow and detailed and B.) they often provide useful examples from real trials so that students can explain how they come to their answer and they might be somewhat right or somewhat wrong - which makes them similar to real world trial evidentiary issues.
See this problem on character evidence and impeachment. This allows readers to see how substantive evidence can come up in trials and while there is an answer, it is not as always easy as it may seem.
Another important task that Bellin undertook in this book is his efficient and proper use of cases, in my opinion. Judicial opinions can be complex and hard to follow. They are usually overwritten and use too many big words when smaller ones would suffice. What Law of Evidence has done is take newer opinions and abridged them. No long dissents, no old cases for the sake of being old. But rather, well written cases that do what their job is intended to do - explain the application of the rule. Interesting facts make interesting cases make interested students.
But the best part of Law of Evidence is not the structure, nor the contents. But rather the price. Professor Bellin has self-published this book, which means he can charge a reasonable price - and that he has done. At $30, this book is considerably cheaper than any casebook I came across during my law school time.
The rules of evidence can be complicated and confusing. I do not remember much from my evidence class years ago, and I do not remember the casebook. As Bellin points out, evidence in law school is used to teach the substance of the rules of evidence, and the application is mostly learned through practice in trial. The Law of Evidence is a great casebook that will prepare law students for when their time comes after graduation.