Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 16, 2019

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Small claims courts are special, limited courts meant to enable the speedy resolution of certain types of disputes. Unlike other courts, claim amounts in small claims courts may not exceed a set figure, generally around $5,000-$10,000, depending on the court. Small claims court judges have full power and authority to render judgments that are binding on all parties involved.

Most jurisdictions do not permit parties in small claims cases to be represented by lawyers. This requirement enables small claims court judges to conduct hearings in a more relaxed, less formal manner, with some leeway allowed with respect to introducing evidence. However, since small claims courts are still courts of law, the rules of evidence still apply. Evidence must be introduced to support your case, and it must be introduced properly.

The Importance of Evidence in Small Claims Court

Telling your story in small claims court requires proving your case in an orderly, systematic manner. To do this, you usually need witnesses and/or admissible evidence. A jurisdiction’s rules of evidence will indicate what is admissible and what is not. For example, hearsay, a statement made out of court, is considered inadmissible in most jurisdictions (except in certain limited circumstances). At trial, the judge will consider only admissible evidence presented by both sides in the case. The winner in small claims court will be the one who presented the most convincing, admissible evidence to the judge to support his/her story. 

If you have a claim and are considering small claims court, you should make yourself aware of the court rules in your jurisdiction, including especially the evidence code. This information can generally be found in a legal library or on the Internet. If you find the rules are too complex to implement on your own, don’t feel bad: even lawyers can have trouble with this, and they work with evidence on a daily basis! Your best bet, if you intend to win your small claims court case, is to consult with an experienced attorney beforehand for advice on your claim.