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What is the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence?

Posted by David Ellison | Jun 14, 2018 | 2 Comments

Evidence at a trial or a hearing can include witness testimony, documents, photos, videos, exhibits and any facts that the lawyers have agreed on is true. However, many people confuse the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence. 

Direct evidence can be a witness testifying about their direct recollection of events. This can include what they saw, what they heard or anything they observed with their senses. Ultimately, the fact finder will have to determine how much they want to believe them. 

Circumstantial evidence is when a witness cannot tell you directly about the fact that is intended to be proved. Instead, the witness presents evidence of other facts that based on a reasonable inference would conclude the fact finder to believe the intended fact to be proved. 

Many people say “this case is weak because it is a circumstantial case.” This can be a dangerous assumption. Although circumstantial cases tend to be weaker than direct cases, the Government can still use circumstantial evidence to prove their case. 

Sometimes it is easier to understand the difference with an example. If your brother comes to you and says he saw it snow today, then there is direct evidence that it was snowing. If your brother told you that he woke up and saw snow on the ground, then there is circumstantial evidence that it snowed. He did not see it snow, but it is a reasonable inference that if there is snow on the ground, it must have snowed. 

It is important to keep in mind that if the fact finder relies on circumstantial evidence, then the conclusions must be reasonable and natural, based on their common sense and experience in life. 

Evidence can still be admitted even though it may seem weak. Ultimately, the jury or the judge (whoever is the fact finder) has the ultimate decision on how much weight to give a particular piece of evidence - this is known as the strength of the evidence. 

Evidence can make or break a case — understanding the different forms and types of evidence can change the outcome of any given case. 

About the Author

David Ellison

David Ellison, Criminal Defense Lawyer and Motor Vehicle Offense Lawyer in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is an aggressive, honest & affordable attorney. 


Michael Zeman Reply

Posted Jun 14, 2018 at 16:00:34

If a car goes speeding by you on a mountain road and a few moments later you see that it crashed into a tree on a curve you can infer that the driver was driving too fast for the road. You cannot infer the driver was drunk!

David Ellison Reply

Posted Jun 16, 2018 at 11:52:44

Looks like you’re ready to write some blog posts for our site, Attorney Zeman!

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