A criminal trial is all about the evidence. It is the backbone of the prosecution’s case. Evidence of a crime is most often circumstantial. It is unusual for the police and prosecutors to have direct evidence of the crime, especially in those cases that go to trial.
Direct evidence is evidence that is based on facts known to be true to the victim or police. For example, if the police or another witness personally observe the crime in progress or the victim personally knew the person who committed the crime against him or her, that would be direct evidence. If the witness testimony is credible, prosecutors can often secure a conviction based solely on direct evidence although more often there is some circumstantial evidence that supports the direct evidence. Sometimes though, even direct evidence doesn’t stand up. For example, say a defendant is accused of assault by another person. A good criminal defense attorney will do a due diligence investigation to make sure the accuser is telling the truth. Perhaps in that investigation, the attorney learns that the accuser held a grudge against the defendant and there is reasonable suspicion that the allegation of assault was fabricated in order to harm the defendant. Even direct evidence must be reliable and offer facts that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed.
Circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence but evidence that can be used to infer the commission of a crime. While not as reliable as direct evidence, circumstantial evidence is conferred the same weight as direct evidence in a court of law. However, because circumstantial evidence is usually weaker than direct evidence, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to poke holes in the evidence. For example, if Joe Schmo testifies that he saw someone run from the scene of a robbery who matched the defendant’s description, a good defense attorney will question the reliability of Mr. Schmo’s testimony. Perhaps it turns out that Mr. Schmo’s observation occurred in the dark of night in an area without streetlights. Or maybe Mr. Schmo has poor vision and was not wearing his glasses. Circumstantial evidence must be carefully scrutinized for reliability and reasonability.