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The Difference Between Circumstantial & Direct Evidence

Evidence falls within two umbrella categories: circumstantial evidence and direct evidence. In the absence of evidence like an eyewitness account, prosecutors rely on circumstantial evidence that shows a possible but not definitive connection.

Circumstantial evidence does not directly prove that an event occurred but from which a jury might infer that it did occur. Direct evidence squarely links a defendant to a crime. A skilled criminal defense attorney aims to refute or question all evidence presented at trial.

The Value of Circumstantial Evidence

Thinking that circumstantial evidence holds less weight than direct evidence is an incorrect belief. In Wisconsin, jurors are told “circumstantial evidence is not necessarily better or worse than direct evidence.” A defendant can be found guilty based only on circumstantial evidence.

Examples of direct evidence include the following:

  • The weapon used in the crime
  • A taped confession by the defendant
  • Security video showing the defendant committing the crime
  • Eyewitness testimony of the defendant committing the crime

Examples of circumstantial evidence include the following:

  • Video footage that shows the defendant in the proximity of the crime scene
  • A car fitting the description of the defendant’s car was seen in the area
  • The defendant was seen wearing jewelry fitting the description of stolen property
  • The defendant’s fingerprints at the crime scene

A jury may logically deduce other facts through circumstantial evidence. No matter the type of evidence, jurors must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime to return a guilty verdict.

Types of Evidence

Within circumstantial and direct evidence are various forms that evidence can take.

Types of direct and circumstantial evidence used in a Wisconsin criminal courtroom:

  • Real Evidence: This is sometimes called physical evidence. Any material or tangible items like a weapon, bloody clothing, or fingerprints fall into this category.
  • Demonstrative Evidence: Demonstrative evidence includes diagrams or maps that reflect witness testimony or suggested timeline of the crime.
  • Documentary Evidence: Documentary evidence can include bank statements, insurance policies, letters, and other documents.
  • Digital Evidence: Digital evidence includes any digital or electronic source such as phone calls, emails, texts, video surveillance, and computer files.
  • Testimonial Evidence: Testimonial evidence is given by a witness under oath, including testimonies and statements, typically describing what they heard or saw.

Evidence Is Not Always Admissible

Evidence must be relevant, competent, material, and not outweighed by countervailing considerations. Evidence will be inadmissible if it was obtained illegally, is hearsay, is irrelevant, or was mishandled.

Jury Instructions Regarding Evidence

Wisconsin criminal procedure requires the jury to receive specific instructions about a case. Jurors are told that a complaint is only a written, formal accusation. The complaint is not evidence, nor does it carry an inference of guilt.

Other instructions related to evidence include the following:

  • Do not draw any conclusions about the validity of evidence based on a legal counsel’s objection
  • All stricken testimony should be disregarded
  • Exhibits marked for identification but not received by the court are not evidence
  • The narratives of an attorney are not evidence
  • Any facts agreed upon by both the district attorney and defense counsel must be accepted as conclusively proved.

Strong Legal Counsel to Counterargue the Evidence

At the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella, our experienced attorney uncovers all details of a case, searching for new evidence to place doubt in the jurors’ minds. Attorney Cherella also investigates to find holes in the prosecutor’s case and challenge any evidence they present.

Your future demands the focus and attention of Attorney Cherella. If you are suspected of a crime, contact us right ASAP. We are available to take your call 24/7 at (414) 882-8382.