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 What is Criminal Evidence?

Criminal evidence includes any verbal or physical evidence which is presented to prove that a criminal offense occurred. Evidence may come in many different forms.

Evidence may be introduced by both sides, including the prosecution and the defendant, in hearing and trials. Evidence is presented by the prosecution to show that a defendant is guilty and evidence is presented by the defendant to prove their innocence.

It is illegal for either side to attempt to hide evidence from the authorities, which is known as spoliation of evidence. In criminal trials, the burden rests with the prosecution to prove that a defendant committed the crime with which they were charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

What Are Some Forms of Criminal Evidence?

Criminal evidence comes in two basic categories, verbal and physical. Some examples of verbal evidence may include:

  • A confession made by the defendant;
  • Testimony which is offered by witnesses and expert witnesses;
  • The text of documents or other files;
  • Evidence which is spoken and obtained using a wiretap or other similar technology.

Physical evidence includes tangible evidence. It is typically presented as an exhibit in court.

Examples of physical evidence may include:

  • Weapons or other instruments used to commit a crime;
  • Illegal contraband such as:
    • drugs;
    • drug money; and
    • drug paraphernalia;
  • DNA, blood, or bodily samples;
  • Photographs or video footage;
  • Demonstrative evidence;
  • Footprints or other types of tracks; and
  • Scientific and forensic evidence.

All types of criminal evidence may be classified further into the categories direct evidence or circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence provides the prosecution with information that is true beyond a reasonable doubt.

An example of this type of evidence would include a videotape which shows the defendant committing the crime. In contrast, circumstantial evidence does not prove any theory or fact but, rather, suggests proof in support of a theory.

A classic example of circumstantial evidence involves rain. If an individual is in a building and sees another individual come in front outside and they are carrying their umbrella and water is dripping off of them, it provides circumstantial evidence that it is raining outside.

Another example may include a weapon which fits the description of witness testimony which is provided.

What Evidence is Admissible in Court?

In order for evidence to be admissible in a court of law, that evidence must be:

  • Relevant;
  • Material; and
  • Competent.

Relevant evidence has a reasonable tendency to prove or disprove a fact. Relevant does not mean that the evidence conclusively proves a certain fact but, rather, makes a fact which is of consequence more or less probable than it would be without that evidence.

Even if evidence is determined to be relevant, it must be legally relevant. This means that the probative value of that evidence must substantially outweigh:

  • Any danger of unfair prejudice;
  • Confusion of the jury;
  • Waste of time; and
  • The possibility of misleading the jury.

What Evidence is Not Admissible in Court?

Although the majority of evidence is permitted to be used during a trial, there are certain rules which prohibit specific types of evidence from being admissible at trial. One such rule is the hearsay evidence rule.

These types of rules are stronger in criminal cases due to the constitutional guarantees of certain rights to all defendants. The majority of these rules, however, have certain special exceptions.

These rules may also be subject to change by state, so it is important to consult with an attorney prior to heading to court. There are certain types of evidence which are not permitted to be used against criminal defendants, including:

  • Out of court testimony. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides criminal defendants the right to confront their accuser;
  • Character evidence. Prosecutors are not permitted to use evidence of a defendant’s personality to prove that the defendant committed the crime unless the defendant raises the issue first;
  • Plea bargaining. Statements which are made during plea bargain negotiations cannot be used against the defendant at trial; and
  • Self-incrimination. Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a defendant has the right not to take the stand during trial because the prosecutor’s cross-examination may lead the defendant to incriminate themselves.

What is Admissible Evidence?

Admissible evidence is the legal term which describes any evidence that can be admitted by a court during a trial in order to support an argument. As noted above, there are rules which apply to evidence which may make it admissible or inadmissible.

One example of evidence which may be excluded from a trial by the rules of evidence is hearsay. There are, however, certain exceptions to the hearsay rule which may permit it to be introduced under special circumstances.

What is Hearsay?

Hearsay is a type of evidence which is provided by an individual who obtained that information secondhand. The individual who obtained the information will be called to testify because the individual with first-hand knowledge is not available, for whatever reason, to provide testimony.

Because of this, the parties would not be able to cross-examine the individual who had the first-hand evidence. This is the reason why hearsay evidence is generally excluded, especially in criminal cases.

Are There Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule?

Yes, there are many exceptions to the hearsay rule which allows certain types of secondhand evidence to be admitted during trial. Although the specific exceptions may vary by jurisdiction, they typically include:

  • A statement made under stress, also referred to as an excited utterance;
  • A statement made present sense impressions;
  • A statement made to obtain medical treatment;
  • Public and business records;
  • Any admission of liability or guilt;
  • Prior statements that are inconsistent with each other; and
  • Dying declarations.

Is the Hearsay Rule the Same as the Missing Evidence Rule?

No, the hearsay rule is not the same as the missing evidence rule. The missing evidence rule provides guidance regarding how jurors are required to interpret situations where a party fails to produce evidence in a trial.

If the party does not provide a necessary piece of evidence, the jury is permitted to conclude that that evidence was not presented due to the fact that it would damage that party’s case. The missing evidence rule applies to documents as well as witness testimony.

What is the Confrontation Clause?

The Confrontation Clause is part of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Confrontation Clause provides a criminal defendant with the right to confront witnesses who are testifying against them.

The Confrontation Clause makes it more difficult for hearsay evidence to be admitted in criminal cases.

Is Hearsay Allowed in a Probable Cause Hearing?

Whether or not hearsay evidence is allowed a probable cause hearing depends on the circumstances. Probable cause hearings occur during the pretrial phase of a criminal case during which judges determine whether probable cause exists in a case.

These proceedings are typically less formal than trials. Because there is less at stake than at criminal trials, in some instances, hearsay evidence may be permitted.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Determine Whether I Can Use Hearsay Evidence?

It is important to have the assistance of a criminal lawyer to determine whether or not you will be able to use hearsay evidence. Although hearsay evidence is not as helpful as direct evidence, it may still hold value if it is admissible and there is no other evidence which exists.

Your lawyer can review your case, advise you regarding the hearsay rules in your state, and advise you whether hearsay evidence may be admissible in your case. It is essential to have the assistance of an attorney with any hearsay issues you may have as a proper argument in court may mean the difference between the hearsay evidence being admitted or excluded.

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