“Relevant evidence” is evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.
This section is derived from Commonwealth v. Schuchardt, 408 Mass. 347, 350, 557 N.E.2d 1380, 1382 (1990), and is nearly identical to Fed. R. Evid. 401. See also Commonwealth v. Kennedy, 389 Mass. 308, 310, 450 N.E.2d 167, 170 (1983) (citing with approval Proposed Mass. R. Evid. 401). Massachusetts law accords relevance a liberal definition. See Commonwealth v. Fayerweather, 406 Mass. 78, 83, 546 N.E.2d 345, 347 (1989) (“rational tendency to prove an issue in the case”); Commonwealth v. Vitello, 376 Mass. 426, 440, 381 N.E.2d 582, 590 (1978) (“renders the desired inference more probable than it would be without the evidence”). The concept of relevancy has two components: (1) the evidence must have some tendency (probative value) to prove or disprove a particular fact, and (2) that particular fact must be material to an issue (of consequence) in the case. Harris-Lewis v. Mudge, 60 Mass. App. Ct. 480, 485, 803 N.E.2d 735, 740 (2004).
To be admissible, it is not necessary that the evidence be conclusive of the issue. Commonwealth v. Ashley, 427 Mass. 620, 624–625, 694 N.E.2d 862, 866 (1998). It is sufficient if the evidence constitutes a link in the chain of proof. Commonwealth v. Arroyo, 442 Mass. 135, 144, 810 N.E.2d 1201, 1210 (2004). “Evidence must go in by piecemeal, and evidence having a tendency to prove a proposition is not inadmissible simply because it does not wholly prove the proposition. It is enough if in connection with other evidence it helps a little.” Commonwealth v. Tucker, 189 Mass. 457, 467, 76 N.E. 127, 130 (1905).
“The general pattern of our cases on the alleged remoteness in time or space of particular evidence indicates two general principles. If the evidence has some probative value, decisions to admit the evidence and to leave its weight to the jury have been sustained. The exclusion on the ground of remoteness of relevant evidence has generally not been sustained. The cases have recognized a range of discretion in the judge.” (Citations and footnote omitted.)
DeJesus v. Yogel, 404 Mass. 44, 47, 533 N.E.2d 1318, 1320–1321 (1989). See also Crowe v. Ward, 363 Mass. 85, 88–89, 292 N.E.2d 716, 718–719 (1973) (admissibility of weather reports as proof of conditions at some distance away from the reported observations).
Reliance is placed upon the trial judge’s discretion to exclude evidence whose probative value is “substantially outweighed” by risk of unfair prejudice, confusion, or waste of time. Commonwealth v. Bonds, 445 Mass. 821, 831, 840 N.E.2d 939, 948 (2006). Although omitted in a number of cases, a proper explanation of this balancing test includes the term “substantially.” See Note to Section 403, Grounds for Excluding Relevant Evidence.