Did you know that the way in which ‘evidence’ is referred to is actually incorrect? In fact, the majority of individuals lack a basic understanding of what evidence is, what it means, and how it is applied legally. The commonly used definition for ‘evidence’ lacks a deeper understanding of the different types of evidence and what it means.
What Is Evidence?
Evidence is simply a piece of information that helps to support a conclusion. In a court of law, evidence typically looks at the means, motive, and opportunity for a specific action. If an individual had purchased a murder weapon, was in a position to inherit a large some of money and had been visiting the victim on the weekend of the crime – this would be evidence of all three in the eyes of the court. Evidence doesn’t need to be concrete, there are several different kinds of evidence. For a conclusion to ring true, the evidence must point in that direction.
Direct, Circumstantial, Real, Demonstrative
In law, there are several different ways to classify a piece of evidence. The way in which evidence is classified ultimately concerns how important that piece of evidence is to a given conclusion. Additionally, all types of evidence that support a conclusion are taken into account. While a piece of evidence might not be overly substantial on its own – it could be a single piece of a larger puzzle, made up of multiple types of evidence that paint a more complete picture of the crime.
Direct evidence is typically a first hand account or piece of evidence that directly connects to the conclusion. If an individual witnessed a murder, their testimony would be considered direct evidence, as they were an eyewitness to the crime. Circumstantial evidence uses reasonable inferences to draw conclusions. An example of circumstantial evidence would be if the testimonial came from an individual that had not witnessed the murder, but had seen an argument before the crime took place, and then stumbled across the body shortly after. Both direct and circumstantial evidence are accepted as means of proving a given conclusion, but direct evidence is often weighed more highly.
Real evidence is defined as an object that was involved directly with the case. A murder weapon would be considered real evidence. A bloody shirt found in a nearby dumpster would also be classified as real evidence. In order for real evidence to be considered in a court of law, the competence of that item has to be properly established. In other words, it has to be proven that the item is indeed what has been claimed. Demonstrative evidence is used to back up direct evidence in most cases. If an eyewitness had stated that the assailant had broken a bottle on the ground prior to committing an assault, the broken glass near the crime scene would be considered demonstrative evidence. It demonstrates some validity in testimony or other evidence.
Relevance of Evidence
The relevance of evidence must be examined before acceptance in proceedings. A piece of evidence is ruled as relevant if it proves or disproves a certain aspect of a case. Relevant evidence must be probative, meaning that it “seeks the truth” or helps to establish an asserted truth or conclusion. Evidence that is not probative (doesn’t support an assertion or conclusion), is generally ruled to be inadmissible in court. An example would be examining the past of the accused to drive home a point about their character. An individual with a history of violence is more likely to commit additional crimes. While his history might not be directly relevant to the case, it is considered probative when attempting to paint a picture about the individuals character.
Evidence that is not considered relevant or probative might be considered a waste of time. Additionally, evidence that is found to be confusing, or prejudice in some way may be found to be inadmissible. All relevant evidence directly supports a conclusion that is being drawn.
Who is a Witness?
There are different types of witnesses. They include lay witnesses and expert witnesses. Typically, anyone that is not an expert witness is considered to be offering an opinion. Lay witnesses can testify when their testimony rationally supports perceptions or helps to gain an understanding of a fact within the case. Expert witnesses typically have professional training in a specific field that defines them as an expert.
Hearsay is defined as an out of court statement that is offered as circumstantial evidence of a fact or assertion. In most circumstances, hearsay is not admissible in a trial, but there are exceptions. Sometimes, hearsay can be valuable in establishing assertions and truths that have been supported by other evidence.
There are many different types of evidence. Evidence is often used in public vernacular incorrectly, or without distinguishing the different types of evidence that exist. Some evidence is more useful or meaningful than others in a court of law.