Are you someone who is currently in the middle of a court hearing? Or someone who has a knack for investigating mysteries? Either way if you are looking to learn about the types of evidence, this article has got you covered. By the time you’re done reading, you will know all there is to know about the different types of evidence and their use.
The legal field is vast and consists of various technicalities which may seem a bit overwhelming in the beginning. Whether you’re a legal student or someone who is trying to keep up with their lawyer during a court hearing, knowing about the formalities of the legal world brings you one step closer to achieving your goal.
If you are someone who is wondering if starting a career in this field is a good idea, reading about these topics will help you make an informed decision. Not everyone is meant to become a lawyer, hence, it is best to do your research before you jump into the field.
Before you learn about the types of evidence, it is best to learn about what is evidence, how it can be used to your benefit and in what ways it can be acquired. Once you have a thorough understanding about these topics, then you should move on to learning about the different kinds of evidence used in investigations.
Depending on which country you live in, the definition of the term evidence will vary. This is because every country has the authority to make up their own laws. Moreover, there is also a difference in the legal systems of states. While some continue to relax their rules, others continue to tighten them. Thus, when we define the term evidence here, it will be much narrower in its scope in relation to the definition given by the legal system of any specific country.
Nevertheless, this article will answer all your queries related to evidence so read along and to find out more about the types of evidence.
Table of Contents
What is evidence?
In the simplest terms, evidence is what helps establish a fact. For example, a bloody fingerprint at the scene of a crime will help establish the fact that a certain person was present at the crime scene. Similarly, evidence can also be defined as the available body of facts or information indicating whether a proposition or belief is true or valid.
Let’s try to understand evidence in light of the US law. The United States defines evidence as an item that makes the existence of a fact more or less probable. Evidence can take the form of videos, voice recording, photographs, testimony, documents, DNA testing or any other tangible object.
A court makes decisions based on the truth founded in evidence. In other words, the primary duty of the court is to conduct proper proceedings so as to hear and consider evidence.
Evidence is crucial in both civil and criminal proceedings. In case evidence is procured illegally such as during an unauthorized police search, then that evidence will not be used in a trial. Evidence that is deemed prejudicial or irrelevant to a case also not deemed admissible. Moreover if there is doubt about the integrity of the handling of the evidence, it may be thrown out as well.
In general, evidence can be divided in the following forms:
- Demonstrative: This type of evidence is a model of what most likely happened in a given time and place
- Real evidence: Real evidence consists of tangible evidence such as the murder weapon
- Testimonial: A witness is requested to come in to give his or her testimony in court
- Documentary: A document in the form of a blog, post, letter or article
Terms to know
Before we get to learn more about the types of evidence, it is essential that you have a basic understanding of some technical terms related to evidence. For that reason, we have compiled a list of a few terms that shall help strengthen your understanding on the topic
Circumstantial evidence can be defined as evidence that tends to prove a factual matter by proving other circumstances or events from which the occurrence of the matter can be reasonably inferred. This evidence relies on logical inference to connect it to a fact or conclusion. It is not drawn from direct observation.
Hearsay is a statement made out of court and not under oath which is offered as proof that what is offered as proof that what is stated is true.It can also be defined as information received from other people that cannot be substantiated. In the simplest form,it can be understood as a rumor which is inadmissible as evidence.
Corroborating evidence is independent and different from but strengthens and supplements evidence already presented as a proof. In other words, it confirms already existing evidence. In court, it is used to support the testimony of the witness. Corroborating evidence may be entirely substantial evidence and on its own it may not be sufficient to satisfy all the elements of the charged offence. However, it will be sufficient if it establishes a connection between defendant and the crime to satisfy the jury that the accomplice is telling the truth.
It is a rule of evidence that excludes or suppresses evidence obtained in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights. American courts use this rule to prevent the police and other government agencies from abusing constitutional rights. The evidence in question is inadmissible The exclusionary rule applies to evidence that’s a direct product of a constitutional violation. It also comes into play when such a violation leads less directly to incriminating evidence.
Types of evidence
In this part of the article, we will discuss the different types of evidence along with examples to help clarify any doubts that you may have.
Primarily, there are two types of evidence: direct or circumstantial. As the name implies, Direct evidence is evidence that directly links a defendant to a crime without any need for inference. In other words, this evidence directly proves a fact. It is usually given in criminal investigations in which the direct evidence will be the eyewitness testimony regarding an event that was actually observed.
A few examples of this types of evidence are as follows:
- A voice recording of a person admitting to a crime
- Security footage of a person committing a crime
- The defendants fingerprints on the weapon used to commit the crime
Physical evidence is also known as real evidence. It refers to any material objects that may play a role in the matter that led to the litigation at hand. This type of evidence consists of tangible objects that can be touched or picked up. During the examination of the scene after a crime, everything that may be tied to the investigation is taken into custody to. This is to determine whether it pertains to the case or not.
The evidence is then taken back to a lab or station to be analyzed. The police will need to make sure to keep a log of the evidence to ensure that there is no chance of evidence tampering which can affect the credibility of the trial.
A few examples of physical evidence are as follows:
- Fingerprints obtained from the crime scene
- Footwear impressions or tire tracks
- Hair or broken glass
- Firearms or other forms of ammunition
Individual physical evidence
Physical evidence is an umbrella term which empossases two distinct types of evidence: individual and class evidence. Evidence with individual characteristics that are unique to an individual source. In other words, individual evidence narrows down the evidence to a single individual source and involves a comparison. It is used to narrow the evidence to a single person
In the case of class evidence, the evidence shown can be associated with a group. It is typically used to narrow down a pool of suspects, weapons or the like. In investigation, class evidence is very valuable. It quickly helps to narrow down a list of potential suspects
Examples of class evidence include:
- It is suspected that the person who committed the crime was wearing black ray bans on blue jeans
- The blood found at the crime scene was o+
Forensic evidence is also referred to as scientific evidence. It usually amongst the most helpful types of evidence in criminal litigation. Forensic evidence is based on knowledge that has been derived through a scientific method. This evidence is tested, hypothesized and generally accepted within the scientific community.
Forensic evidence can also be defined as the application of science within legal proceedings. Tests are conducted using technological, scientific or medical methods. The analysis of the data collected can be used to prove the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Nowadays, this type of evidence is usually the most trusted and widely used in criminal investigations.
Examples of forensic evidence includes:
- DNA matching
- Fiber evidence
- Hair evidence
- Fingerprint identification
Trace evidence is created when two objects make contact with one another. There is a trace evidence unit that identifies and compares different types of trace materials that may have been transferred when the crime was being committed. This type of evidence is transferred by heat or induced by contact friction.
Careful collection of material from a crime scene can help yield a lot of information about where the sample came from and how it adds up to what happened at the crime scene. This can be done through magnification or chemical analysis
- Paint being transferred from one car to another during collision
- Transfer of soil from a person’s shoe
Usually when you watch a TV show involving law and crime, you see both sides presenting testimonial evidence to the judge and jury. This happens when a witness is called to the stand to speak before the jury and judge under an oath that requires you to be truthful. A testimony witness can be used for both the defense and the prosecution in the trial. When a prosecution witness is being questioned by the prosecutor, it is called direct examination. When the same person is later questioned by the defense attorney, it is known as cross examination. When roles are reserved, the same is true for the defense witness.
Here’s an example: The defense brings in a witness to prove the innocence of his client and asks him or her a series of questions to further strengthen their case. The jury deliberates on the testimony and decides whether it is relevant and does it indeed prove the innocence of the defendant
Expert witness evidence
Almost all courts bar witnesses from testifying based on their own personal opinion. This is why expert witness evidence exists. These experts are allowed to testify about issues within their field of expertise. The expert has an overriding duty to the court. This supersedes any duty to the client who appointed them. The court expects the witness to be true, impartial and independent, or else his testimony is rejected.
The expert witness must present his or her impartial opinion before the court in the form of an expert report while keeping in mind the instructions given to them by the court. You are not supposed to be an advocate for the party that appointed you and defend their case. Nor are you providing your opinion beyond your area of expertise. Lastly, an expert witness is not a negotiator.
Examples for expert witness testimony include:
- Calling a psychiatrist to the stand to state if the defendant is mentally stable or not
- A doctor coming to the stand to help explain the report of some X-rays to the judge and jury
In a world that is so dependent on technology, digital evidence has become more important than ever. Digital evidence consists of any relevant data or information that is transmitted or stored in binary form. This includes all that was found on a computer hard drive including the cell phone, hard drive of the computer and the flash drive. Previously, digital evidence was only being used for e-crimes such as hacking.
However, now it is used in a wide range of crime prosecution. This includes drawing up on text messages, a cell phone’s location at the time of the crime or the text messages.
This evidence is acquired when the electronic devices are seized and secured for examination. Digital evidence, as important as it is, can be damaged, destroyed and altered. It can also be time sensitive. Digital evidence is further divided into three forensic categories:
- Internet based
- Stand alone computer and devices
- Mobile devices
Below are the examples of digital evidence:
- The defendant presents before the court a series of text messages which indicate that he was with his friends at a party at the time of the crime
- The information stored in the computer’s hard drive shows that the defendant was searching for ways to clean blood from the crime scene
As the name implies, this evidence refers to any relevant information regarding the case contained in documents. This can be in the form of a bank statement, a deed or a will etc. In order for all documentary evidence to be admitted for the case in court, it must be proven that all the evidence is authentic.
Documentary evidence is a broad term, it includes basically anything on paper. It includes, but is not limited to documents, writings, drawings, blueprints, computer printouts, photographs, X-rays, books, audio, tapes and video recordings.
- A will is presented before the court which states that the defendant was cheating and has indeed given all of his property to the woman he was cheating with
- An x-ray is presented before the court that show that no bones were broken hence, if the defendant claimed to have broken bones after physical abuse from his husband, that was false information
Demonstrative evidence is an umbrella term which may include many different elements. This type of evidence usually diagrams and charts, illustrates or demonstrates the testimony given by the witness. It is admissible in the court if it is an accurate and fair reflection of the witnesses testimony and is more probative than prejudicial. A witness may create and use demonstrative evidence at court and the opposing part can use the same evidence to prove a contrary position.
This evidence can be in the form of pictures, diagrams, models objects or any other device used in the trial.
Here are a few examples:
- Images from the scene of the accident
- X-rays of an injury
This type of evidence is used to demonstrate the moral standing of a person based on the kind of reputation they uphold within their respective community. A character witness is called in court who then testifies on behalf of a person and highlights their positive or negative traits.In simple words, this evidence relates to whether an accused is of good or bad character.
The common law states that character evidence is inadmissible in the case of a criminal trial unless the defendant raises the issue first.
Character evidence is usually not admitted because it is vague and subject. Moreover, just because someone is trustworthy or decent does not mean they are incapable of committing a crime. In addition, this sort of evidence can distort facts and prejudice the jury despite the presence of material evidence.
An example here is of the famous case of Ted Bundy who went out of his way to exude positive character traits in the public. In fact, he worked as a crisis counseller for sexual assault victims and later he confessed to having murdered and sexually assaulted dozens of women.
During trial proceedings, the defense team may present evidence that serves to either excuse, justify or introduce reasonable doubt about the defendants intentions or alleged actions. This is known as exculpatory evidence. The term exculpatory comes from the word exculpate which in turn comes from two latin words ex “from” and culpa, “blame.” It is most commonly used to demonstrate that the defendant is not guilty of the crime. In case the prosecutors willfully withhold potential exculpatory evidence, then this is considered a violation of a rule known as the brady rule.
This is how it works:
When a defendant is charged with a crime, both the defense attorney and the prosecutor gather evidence to make their case. If the prosecutor comes across any evidence that shows that the defendant did not in fact commit the crime, then he or she has to turn it over to the defense. If the prosecutor has neglected this step and does not turn over the evidence, then the case can be dismissed, retired or even the defendant can be found not guilty.
Admissible and Inadmissible evidence
Other than all the types of evidence mentioned above, there are two primary categories of evidence that have a sizable impact on the outcome of the case: admissible and inadmissible evidence. It is the duty of the judge to determine whether a specific evidence can be included in the case or not. If the judge determines that the evidence cannot be presented to the jury, it is considered to be inadmissible evidence. This can be done if the evidence was obtained illegally, it is prejudicial or not relevant to the case. On the other hand, if the evidence is formally presented in front of the jury, it is known as admissible evidence.
In court cases, it is the obligation of the prosecution team to meet the burden of proof and fulfill their responsibility to prove their allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Evidence that falls short of this requirement is known as insufficient evidence. In case this happens, the judge has the authority to dismiss the case entirely even before the defense presents their side.
This suggests that the entire trial is dependent on how much sufficient, relevant and truthful evidence the prosecutors have been able to procure.
Now that you know all about the different types of evidences, you can rest easy. Whether you’re someone currently fighting a case or someone who is looking to start a career in the legal field, developing an understanding about what is evidence, why is matters and the different types and forms it comes it can assist you in making an informed decision. In case you’re still unclear about something, go through the article again until you have developed a clear understanding.