In the United States, the two types of laws that are meant to punish wrongdoing or compensate victims for such acts are known as criminal law and civil law. Civil law addresses behavior that causes some sort of injury to an individual, or other private party, generally through the use of lawsuits.
The penalties for any parties who are found to be liable for these acts are generally monetary, such as a damages award. However, penalties can also include court-ordered remedies, such as injunctions and/or restraining orders.
Alternatively, criminal law is intended to address behavior that is considered to be an offense against society, the state, or public. This remains true even if the victim is one individual person. Someone who is convicted of a crime can be forced to pay fines, as well as lose their freedom by being sentenced to jail or prison time. No matter whether someone is being charged with a serious crime or a minor crime, the accused person still has the right to a trial, among other legal protections.
Criminal evidence can be any physical or verbal evidence that is presented in order to prove that a crime was committed. Such evidence can take many different forms, and can also be introduced by the defendant in order to prove that they are not guilty of the crime they are being accused of committing. In any criminal trial, the burden is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant actually committed the crime in question.
It is imperative to note that it is illegal to attempt to hide any of this evidence from the other side of the case, or from the authorities. This action is known as spoliation of evidence, and will be further discussed later on.
Can A Footprint Be Used As Evidence?
Criminal evidence can be categorized as being either verbal or physical. Examples of verbal evidence include, but may not be limited to:
- Confessions that were made by the defendant themselves;
- Testimony that is offered by witnesses and/or expert witnesses;
- Documents, such as a search warrant or other relevant files; and
- Spoken evidence that was obtained through a wiretap or other comparable technology.
Physical evidence, then, is any tangible evidence. Such evidence is generally presented as an exhibit. An example of this would be when the weapon that was used to commit the crime is presented as Exhibit A. Some examples of physical evidence can include:
- Weapons or other instruments that were used to commit the crime;
- Illegal contraband such as drugs, drug money, and drug paraphernalia;
- DNA, blood, or other bodily samples such as semen or hair;
- Photographic evidence or video footage;
- Demonstrative evidence;
- Footprints or other types of tracks, as will be further discussed below; and
- Scientific and forensic evidence.
All types of criminal evidence can 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 which clearly shows the defendant injuring the victim.
Circumstantial evidence does not prove a theory, but suggests proof in support of the theory. An example of circumstantial evidence would be a knife that fits the description of witness testimony, but not necessarily the knife itself.
Footprints are generally used by the prosecution in order to help prove that an individual committed a crime. They are also used to prove that the person was at least present at the scene of a crime, and thus could have committed the crime themselves. While footprints are not as unique as a fingerprint or DNA evidence, they can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to hundreds of years. As such, footprints can be enough to help the prosecution in securing a criminal conviction.
When the prosecution considers a footprint as evidence of criminal activity, they are generally focused on the following factors:
- The walk or gait of the person who left the footprints behind;
- Sole or heel indents;
- Cuts or the tread of a shoe; and
- Other signs of wear that are associated with a shoe.
In addition to considering these signs that are associated with a footprint, the prosecution should anticipate some difficulty in terms of proving that a person is guilty of a crime based on their footprints alone. This is due to the fact that in order to use a footprint as evidence against someone for a crime, the following three things are generally required:
- A photograph, plaster mold, and/or print of the original and untainted footprint;
- The actual shoe or mold of a foot that belongs to the defendant; and
- An expert witness who can testify to the connection between the two, and beyond a reasonable doubt.
When Is Criminal Evidence Admissible In Court? When Is Criminal Evidence Not Admissible In Court?
In order for evidence to be admissible in court, such as a footprint, the evidence must be:
- Legally relevant;
- Material; and
Additionally, in order for evidence to be considered relevant, the evidence 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, but rather make a fact that is of consequence more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.
Further, even if evidence is considered to be relevant, the probative value of the evidence must not be substantially outweighed by the dangers of:
- Unfair prejudice;
- Confusion of the jury;
- Waste of time; and/or
- Misleading the jury.
While most evidence is permitted for use at trial, there are specific rules which prevent certain types of evidence from being admissible at trial. An example of this would be the hearsay evidence rule. However, such rules do have special exceptions, and are subject to change from state to state.
The following types of evidence are not permitted against criminal defendants, and as such are considered to be inadmissible:
- Out of Court Testimony: The Sixth Amendment of the American Constitution gives 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. This would be unless the defendant first raises the issue themselves;
- Plea Bargaining: Statements that are made during plea bargains cannot be used against the defendant at trial; and
- Self-Incrimination: Defendants have the right to abstain from taking the stand during trial, because the prosecutor’s cross examination could lead the defendant to incriminate themselves.
What Is Spoliation Of Evidence?
The outcome of a case largely depends on the strength of the evidence that is presented. This is why the evidentiary rules are strict regarding 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.
Such actions are known as spoliation of evidence, or tampering with evidence, and can result in serious legal consequences. This is relevant to footprints being used as evidence in that if the footprint has been tampered with or planted, it would be considered inadmissible.
Do I Need An Attorney For A Case Involving Footprints As Evidence?
If you are involved in a criminal case and are experiencing issues with evidence that is being provided, you will need to consult with an experienced and local criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can help you proceed according to your state’s specific laws regarding admissible evidence, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.