Rule 103: Rulings on Evidence.

Article I. General Provisions


(a) Effect of Erroneous Ruling.  Error may not be predicated upon a ruling which admits or excludes evidence unless a substantial right of the party is affected, and

(1) Objection.  In case the ruling is one admitting evidence, a timely objection or motion to strike appears of record, stating the specific ground of objection if the specific ground was not apparent from the context; or

(2) Offer of Proof.  In case the ruling is one excluding evidence, the substance of the evidence and the specific evidentiary basis supporting admission were made known to the court by offer or were apparent from the context.  Once the court makes a definitive ruling on the record admitting or excluding evidence, either at or before trial, a party need not renew an objection or offer of proof to preserve a claim of error for appeal.

(b) Record of Offer and Ruling.  The court may add any other or further statement which shows the character of the evidence, the form in which it was offered, the objection made, and the ruling. It shall permit the making of an offer in question and answer form.  If an issue arises concerning the privileged nature of a communication, the trial court may require the communication be reduced to writing for in camera review. If ruled not privileged, the communication can be divulged in open court and will become part of the record for appellate review. If ruled privileged, the trial court shall seal the writing reviewed in camera and attach it to the record for appellate review.

(c) Hearing of Jury.  In jury cases, proceedings shall be conducted to the extent practicable so as to prevent inadmissible evidence from being suggested to the jury by any means, such as making statements or offers of proof or asking questions in the hearing of the jury.

(d) Plain Error.  Nothing in this rule precludes taking notice of plain errors affecting substantial rights although they were not brought to the attention of the court. [As amended by order entered January 25, 1991, effective July 1, 1991; by order filed January 23, 2001, effective July 1, 2001; and by order filed January 6, 2005, effective July 1, 2005.]

Advisory Commission Comments.

Part (a) restates current law. Errors must be substantial rather than harmless. The effect of a trial error, including an erroneous ruling on evidence, is set out if T.R.A.P. 36(b). Objections must be timely and specific. Offers of proof must indicate to the reviewing court what was excluded. Note that in Part (b) the trial court must permit a formal question-and-answer offer, the kind favored by appellate courts.

Part (d) recognizes that some errors are so plain and harmful that a trial judge can be reversed despite absence of objection. See T.R.A.P. 36(b), T.R.Crim.P. 52(b), and State v. Ogle, 666 S.W.2d 58 (Tenn. 1984) (reversing for Bruton error not raised in trial court or Court of Criminal Appeals).

Advisory Commission Comments [1991].

Subsection (a)(2) is amended to add a specificity requirement as to the evidentiary rule supporting an offer of proof, thereby making this requirement for offers consistent with that for objections in subsection (a)(1). 

Advisory Commission Comments [2001].

The final sentence of Rule 103(a) eliminates the need to repeat objections or offers of proof.

Advisory Commission Comments [2005].

The second paragraph in Rule 103(b) provides a procedure for appellate review where parties disagree whether a communication is privileged. Rulings at trial are subject to interlocutory appeals pursuant to Appellate Rules 9 and 10.

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