Evidence is a highly important aspect of almost every trial, as it provides support for each party’s argument. Without enough evidence, a party in a suit may fail to persuade the judge or jury that its argument is sound and legitimate.
A wide variety of evidence can be presented in a courtroom during trials. However, all evidence must adhere to evidentiary standards set by the law, and must meet certain criteria in order to be valid in a court case.
Here's a closer look at some of the main types of evidence, the standards of evidence, and the kinds of evidence that don’t hold up in court.
The Different Kinds of Evidence
Character evidence is evidence that supports the claim that a person has a certain type of character. For example, if a person has a history of violent behavior, then this history may be cited as character evidence, supporting the notion that the person has a violent character.
Typically, character evidence is not permitted during the trial period for criminal trials. This is to prevent the judge or jury from automatically assuming that the person is innocent or guilty based on their character. In fact, often, when people commit crimes, they are acting way out of character.
However, character evidence is allowed to be presented during the sentencing period. So, for example, if a person has acted out of character, then the defense may ask for a lesser sentence since the crime was very atypical for the person.
Circumstantial evidence is evidence that requires conclusions to be drawn. It is also known as indirect evidence. With circumstantial evidence, a fact is not directly proved. Instead, it is indirectly concluded to be true after certain circumstances have been proven to have occurred.
For example, if a witness saw a car swerving down the road and then heard a loud crashing noise after the car made a turn behind a building, this would be circumstantial evidence supporting the claim that the driver crashed into the building.
When circumstantial evidence is presented in a court of law, it is up to the jury to determine whether or not they believe the testimony of the witness, and whether or not it is reasonable to draw a specific conclusion from the circumstantial evidence.
Documentary evidence is evidence that comes in the form of a document. For example, receipts, checks, memos, journal entries, deeds, wills and any other paper containing information on it can be documentary evidence.
Unlike character evidence, documentary evidence can and is frequently presented during the trial phase of court cases. It is commonly used both in civil and criminal cases.
In many trials, documentary evidence can be extremely important to the outcome of the case. In fact, sometimes, documentary evidence can be the most crucial piece of evidence in the trial and can make the difference between the jury voting one way or the other.
However, in order for documentary evidence to be permitted, it has to be proven to be legitimate. An attorney may object at the presentation of the evidence if they believe that it is false or unlawful in another way.
Forensic evidence is evidence that is obtained through using scientific procedures and methods. This can include fingerprints, bullet ballistics, DNA tests, blood tests, etc. Obtaining forensic evidence involves training and is usually done by highly qualified individuals.
Like documentary evidence, forensic evidence can also be extremely important to the outcome of a trial. Often, forensic teams will investigate and search crime scenes for forensic evidence following the occurrence of a crime.
Forensic evidence can be extremely difficult to defend against, because it is often highly implicating. For example, if a suspect’s fingerprints or DNA is found at the scene of the crime, then it usually means that there is an incredibly good chance that the suspect was involved in the crime.
Other Kinds of Evidence
- Corroborating evidence
- Demonstrative evidence
- Direct evidence
- DNA evidence
- Medical evidence
- Testimony (oral/witness evidence)
The Standards of Evidence
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
In a civil suit, the plaintiff is responsible for presenting a “weight of evidence” that demonstrates that their argument is sound. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty. So, the standards of evidence for criminal case are slightly stricter.
The reason why prosecutors must present evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases is because punishments for criminal cases can be very severe. In some states, punishment can even include death. So, the higher standard of evidence is intended to prevent innocent people from being found guilty in criminal cases.
Insufficient evidence is when too little evidence is brought forth by the prosecution or the plaintiff, and the judge dismisses the case. When this happens, the judge does so because they believe that the plaintiff or the prosecution does not have enough proof of the accusation(s) for there to be justification for a full trial.
Sometimes, if a case is dismissed due to insufficient evidence, the prosecution or the plaintiff may go and seek out more evidence. If they can find new evidence, then the judge may allow the case to proceed.
Relevance refers to the fact that evidence being presented in court cases has to be connected to the points of the case. In other words, the evidence that each party presents should help to prove or disprove a matter that is integral to the case.
If a specific piece of evidence is believed to be irrelevant by a party in the suit, then an attorney may object to it. If the judge agrees that it is irrelevant, then the objection may be sustained. This means that the evidence will be dismissed, a question will not be answered, etc.
Other Standards of Evidence
- Admissible evidence
- Clear and convincing evidence
- Daubert standard
- Federal Rules of Evidence
- Inadmissible evidence
- Incompetent evidence
- Preponderance of evidence
- Recorded recollection
Evidence That Doesn’t Hold Up in Court
Hearsay is when either a witness or an attorney brings forth a statement made by another person who's out of the courtroom as evidence. Hearsay is generally not accepted in courtrooms as evidence, because it's viewed as highly unreliable and unverifiable.
An incompetent witness is a witness who is deemed to be incapable of providing sound testimony. This is usually because the witness is either a child, has a mental illness, or claims to be an expert witness (but is not really an expert on the subject matter). Testimonies from incompetent witnesses are typically dismissed and cannot be used in trials to support arguments.
The reason why evidence from incompetent witnesses is usually dismissed is because it is deemed as being unreliable, or having too great a chance of being untrue. If an attorney believes that a witness is incompetent, then they may object to the evidence that they present due to incompetence.
Tampered evidence is evidence that has been altered or intentionally changed by a person to affect the outcome of a trial. Tampered evidence is typically dismissed in a court because after it has been tampered with, its legitimacy is no longer reliable. Tampering with evidence is a crime, and people who do it can face criminal charges.
Other Invalid Evidence
The Importance of Evidence
Evidence is a crucial aspect of court cases. Without evidence, claims cannot be proven to be true or untrue. In order for attorneys to win trials, it is of the utmost importance that they provide evidence that supports their argument. If they fail to do this, then there is a good chance that they will lose the case.
The more legitimate evidence you have to support your position, the better your chances are of winning a case. The evidence that you present must also be more convincing than the evidence presented by the opposing counsel. Ultimately, however, it is up to the jury or judge to interpret your evidence and make a decision.