How Circumstantial Evidence Figures Into Criminal Cases

One of the most complex issues for people facing criminal allegations to process is how circumstantial evidence can be used to arrive at charges and even convictions. Describing evidence as circumstantial makes it sound irrelevant unless you look at the problem the way a criminal defense lawyer would. There is also a popular myth, perpetuated by TV and film crime dramas, that a person can't be convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Let's take a look at how circumstantial evidence really figures into criminal cases.

What is Circumstantial Evidence?

Suppose a police officer came into court and said that a defendant had been seen running away from the scene of the crime. The circumstances of the person's relationship to the crime scene operate as one breadcrumb that could potentially lead to evidence that they were involved in the crime.

How Powerful is Circumstantial Evidence?

Ideally, the court wants to see direct evidence of a crime. A jury is going to feel much more compelled by a video of an assault than testimony that screams and fighting were heard in an area where the defendant was, for example. Direct evidence, though, isn't the whole ball game.

A single piece of circumstantial evidence is unlikely to ever lead to a conviction. It's also rare that a purely circumstantial case is prosecuted. The criminal lawyer for someone seen running from the scene of a crime, per the earlier example, might be able to argue that they were running from the scene out of fear for their own life.

Circumstantial evidence often provides texture and detail to a case. If an individual had threatened their ex by text message, for example, that circumstance would be considered at least worthy of investigation if the ex was assaulted a couple of days later.

Layers of circumstantial evidence can be built up, too. The accused in such a case might also have visited the emergency room to have abrasions on their knuckles and broken bones in their hand treated. In isolation, the threat and the injuries aren't close to enough to justify more than a cursory investigation. Put those two circumstances together, though, and the case starts to look more compelling.

Defending Against Circumstantial Evidence

For a criminal defense lawyer, questioning each piece of circumstantial evidence is critical. Life does happen, and not all circumstances look good. Innocent people can be surrounded by bad circumstances, and it's important to lay out the details.

For more information, contact a criminal defense lawyer.