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What is Circumstantial Evidence?

May 27, 2014 Legal Terminology

On behalf of Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff, LLP

To win the case in a criminal trial, it is necessary that the evidence provided by the prosecution should prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty of the charges that were brought against him/her. During court proceedings, two types of evidence can be used – direct evidence and circumstantial evidence.
Understanding Circumstantial Evidence

Evidence-1-300x199Civil cases, when trying to deny or establish liability, are based on circumstantial evidence.

Direct Evidence

Direct evidence and circumstantial evidence are two very different things. Direct evidence shows something to be an unarguable fact, beyond all reasonable doubt. For instance, physical evidence of a crime, video and audio tapes and the testimony from a reliable witness can be termed as direct evidence in a case. Direct evidence allows the jury to infer, without a doubt, whether the defendant is guilty or not.

Circumstantial evidence on the other hand, is used to establish innocence or guilt in a trial through reasoning. It is referred to as indirect evidence since it only suggests a certain fact strongly, but does not actually prove it. This indirect evidence results from the combination of several unrelated facts which the prosecution uses to try and convince a jury of a defendant’s guilt or innocence.

The Criminal Mindset

Criminals are very careful most of the time not to leave behind any direct evidence of the crimes they might have committed. This is why very often courts rely on circumstantial evidence to determine the facts of the case.

Understanding the Difference

Usually, it is criminal prosecutors who rely on circumstantial evidence to prove their case. Civil cases, when trying to deny or establish liability, are based on circumstantial evidence. Many people believe that circumstantial evidence carries less importance than direct evidence. This is partly true, but not to a complete extent. Direct evidence is definitely more powerful than circumstantial evidence, there are times that circumstantial evidence might offer an advantage over direct evidence since it is more complicated to fabricate or suppress.

There are different types of circumstantial evidence such as a suspect’s behavior after a crime, differential treatment and threatening comments prior to a crime and sometimes, witnesses, and forensic evidence.

Evidence-300x225Direct evidence and circumstantial evidence are two very different things

Putting Two and Two Together

Slanderous comments or direct verbal threats to a person’s life before the occurrence of say, that person’s murder, can be considered to be circumstantial evidence. If an individual treated an assault victim badly before the crime was committed, they might also be investigated by the police on the basis of circumstantial evidence. For instance, a person who stalked a woman in the past may be investigated if she was raped. In both cases, the evidence is considered to be circumstantial in nature.

Blurring the Lines

Another viable example of circumstantial evidence is a person who is being investigated for a robbery, spending copious amounts of money after the crime was reported to have been committed, or a person who may be overtly nervous while being investigated for a possible murder. There is not any hard evidence of either crime here, but circumstantial evidence is present. There are times that certain eye witness accounts may also be considered to be circumstantial evidence.