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Circumstantial Evidence vs. Direct Evidence

Updated on March 31, 2014
Crime scene tape marks off crime scenes so the evidence doesn't get tampered with.
Crime scene tape marks off crime scenes so the evidence doesn't get tampered with.

What is Evidence?

Evidence is defined as witness testimony, documents, material objects, or other things that are presented in court to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact. Furthermore, physical evidence would be material objects that can establish that a crime occurred, identify the suspect, establish a relationship between the suspect and the crime scene, or can clear the innocent. There are two types of evidence; circumstantial evidence and direct evidence.

Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that alone does not prove that the person on trial is guilty. An example of circumstantial evidence would be fingerprints because by themselves they can not prove that a person committed a crime, just that they were at the scene of the crime. If a person has a direct link to the crime scene than their fingerprints being there can not definitively prove anything. There are conditions for admitting any type of evidence into court. For circumstantial evidence, they need to establish proof that the evidence got there while the crime was happening. For example, a person who has a legitimate reason to have fingerprints left at the scene of the crime, such as at a restaurant they frequent often, then they will need extra proof that they committed the crime. If their fingerprints on found on the murder weapon, this could prove that they were there while the crime was happening.

Circumstantial Evidence-your fingerprint
Circumstantial Evidence-your fingerprint

Lastly, all evidence has to follow the rules of evidence. One rule of evidence is the probative value; concept that evidence must be relevant and have a tendency to prove or disprove any disputed fact that is placed before the court. For example, prints found on an object that the suspect has legitimate access to would have little probative value in court. Whereas, finding a suspects print on an object inside a house they've never been in would have a great probative value in court.

Direct Evidence

Direct evidence is evidence that shows that something is a fact without any inference of presumption. This means that this evidence alone could potentially help close the whole case. An example of direct evidence would be a witness testimony of knowledge they have on a crime that was committed. For direct evidence to be admitted into court, the witness must be thoroughly examined before they are put on the stand. If the witness' statement changes substantially every time then this is a sign that they are lying. Another example would be if there are multiple witnesses doing a line up of the suspect. The witnesses must not come into contact with one another during this process because this would be considered witness tampering and will get thrown out of court.

Direct Evidence-An expert witness
Direct Evidence-An expert witness

Lastly, we have direct evidence and the probative value rule. An example of how a witness would have a low probative value would be asking them leading questions to mislead the jury. The questions should not suggest anything, rather let the witness tell everything they know to the best of their knowledge because their statement will hold a higher probative value that way.

In your opinion, is circumstantial evidence or direct evidence stronger?

See results

Circumstantial evidence can prove to be just as strong, if not stronger than direct evidence. One reason for this would be if you have a poor eye witness versus multiple fingerprints from the same person at the crime scene they don't have legitimate access to, the fingerprints would be much stronger evidence than the eye witness. Either way, for both types of evidence to have any standing in court, they must abide by the rules of evidence.


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    • KJhusak profile image

      KJhusak 3 years ago from Akron

      Thank you HSchneider, I appreciate it! (:

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Very enlightening Hub, KJhusak. Our court systems can be very confusing and you shed some light on the evidentiary subject. Great job.