Criminal Evidence

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 What Is Criminal Law?

There are two types of laws in the United States which are meant to punish wrongdoing, and/or compensate victims of illegal acts. These two branches are known as criminal law and civil law. Civil law addresses behavior that causes some sort of injury or harm to an individual or other private party, which is accomplished through lawsuits. The penalties for any parties that are found liable for such acts are generally monetary, but can also include court-ordered remedies such as injunctions or restraining orders.

Alternatively, criminal law addresses behavior that is considered to be an offense against society, the state, or public. This remains true even if the victim is an individual person. Someone who is convicted of a crime may be forced to pay fines; they may also lose their freedom by being sentenced to jail or prison time.

Regardless of whether someone is being charged with a serious crime or a minor crime, the accused still has the right to a trial, among various other legal protections.

What Is Criminal Evidence? What Are Some Examples Of Criminal Evidence?

The term criminal evidence is used to refer to any physical or verbal evidence that is presented in order to prove that a crime was committed. Criminal evidence can take many different forms, and can also be introduced by the defendant in order to prove that they are not guilty.

It is illegal to attempt to hide any of this evidence, an action that is known as spoliation of evidence, from both the other side and the authorities. Spoliation of evidence will be further discussed below. Regardless of the circumstances, in any criminal trial, the prosecution is responsible for proving that the defendant committed the crime.

Generally speaking, criminal evidence can come in two different forms: verbal, or physical. Some of the most common examples of verbal evidence may include:

  • Confessions that were made by the defendant;
  • Testimony that was offered by witnesses and expert witnesses;
  • Documents, such as a search warrant or other files; and
  • Spoken evidence that was obtained through a wiretap or other similar technology.

Physical evidence can be any tangible evidence, and as such is generally presented as an exhibit. Common examples of physical evidence can include:

  • Weapons or other instruments that were used to commit the crime in question;
  • Illegal contraband such as drugs, drug money, and drug paraphernalia;
  • DNA, blood, or other bodily samples;
  • Photographic or video footage;
  • Demonstrative evidence, which will be further discussed below;
  • Footprints or other types of tracks; and
  • Scientific and forensic evidence.

It is important to note that all criminal evidence may be further classified as being either direct or circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence provides the prosecution with information that is considered to be true “beyond a reasonable doubt.” An example of this would be a videotape that shows the defendant injuring the victim.

On the other hand, circumstantial evidence does not prove a theory. Instead, circumstantial evidence suggests proof in support of the theory. An example of this would be a knife that fits the description of witness testimony.

What Is Spoliation Of Evidence? What Is Demonstrative Evidence?

As was previously mentioned, it is illegal to attempt to hide any evidence, an action known as spoliation of evidence, from both the other side of the case and the authorities. Evidence is instrumental for the prosecution in a criminal proceeding, as it is needed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The outcome of a case relies on the strength of the evidence that is presented. As such, the evidentiary rules are considerably strict in terms of the responsibilities of both parties to preserve evidence. Any intentional, reckless, and/or negligent hiding of evidence by either party to the proceeding is considered to be illegal.

This is known as spoliation of evidence, or tampering with evidence, and can result in serious legal consequences. The “hiding” of evidence can include any action that results in the:

  • Hiding;
  • Withholding;
  • Altering; and/or
  • Destruction of evidence that is relevant to the case.

Simply put, any action that makes the evidence unavailable for the legal proceeding may be considered spoliation of evidence. Additionally, in some jurisdictions, witness tampering can be considered an example of spoliation of evidence. Witness tampering includes:

  • Intimidating a witness;
  • Physically preventing them from testifying; and/or
  • Persuading them to alter their testimony.

Demonstrative evidence includes any:

  • Graphs;
  • Physical objects;
  • Pictures;
  • Models; and/or
  • Enlarged documents that are intended to clarify facts for a jury or judge.

Demonstrative evidence is important as it can make it easier for the judge or jury to understand:

  • How the crime occurred, or could not have occurred;
  • The damages inflicted by carrying out the crime;
  • The reliability of other evidence; and
  • The method that the defendant used in the crime that they have been accused of committing.

Real evidence is evidence that was at the scene when the crime occurred. A knife, bloody clothing, and DNA are considered to be physical evidence. Other physical evidence, such as photographs of the crime scene, would be considered demonstrative as it is not real evidence. Rather, it only illustrates the point that the criminal attorney is attempting to make.

As such, an example of real evidence would be a blood-soaked mattress upon which the victim was killed. That mattress existed at the scene of the crime, and helps prove how and where the victim died.

What Evidence Is Admissible In Court? What Evidence Is Not Admissible In Court?

In order for evidence to be admissible in court, the evidence must be:

  • Legally relevant;
  • Material; and
  • Competent.

In order for evidence to be considered relevant, it must have a reasonable tendency to help prove or disprove a fact. What this means is that the evidence does not need to make a fact certain; rather, it must make a fact that is of consequence more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

Even when evidence is considered to be relevant, the evidence must be legally relevant; meaning, that the probative value of the evidence must not be substantially outweighed by the dangers of:

  • Unfair prejudice;
  • Confusion of jury;
  • Waste of time; and/or
  • Misleading the jury.

While most evidence is permitted for use at trial, there are rules in place which prevent certain types of evidence from being admissible at trial. An example of this would be the hearsay evidence rule. It is important to note that most of these rules come with specific exceptions, and are subject to change from state to state.

The following types of evidence are examples of what is not permitted against criminal defendants:

  • Out of Court Testimony: The Sixth Amendment grants criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers;
  • Character Evidence: Prosecutors cannot use evidence of a defendant’s personality in an attempt to prove that the defendant committed the crime, unless the defendant raises the issue first;
  • Plea Bargaining: Statements that were made during plea bargains cannot be used against the defendant at trial; and
  • Self-Incrimination: Defendants have the right to avoid taking the stand during trial if the prosecutor’s cross examination could lead the defendant to incriminate themselves.

Do I Need A Criminal Lawyer?

If you are facing criminal charges, you will need to work with an experienced and local criminal lawyer. An attorney will be most familiar in terms of your state’s specific criminal laws, and how those laws may affect your legal rights and options. Additionally, your criminal defense attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.


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