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Legal Topics

Criminal law evidence — Legal glossary

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

Definition of evidence in criminal law, related terms, and research resources for legal professionals

Legal termscriminal law • criminal law evidence


Evidence can come in several forms, including direct, circumstantial, physical, documentary, and expert. While each type of evidence is evaluated differently, all evidence must be legally admissible in court. criminal law.

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Types of evidence

Collection of evidence

Summary and related resources


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Types of evidence

There are two major types of evidence used in establishing in criminal liability.

  1. Direct evidence — directly proves a fact. This type of evidence can include eyewitness testimony, video recordings, or confessions. It is considered the most reliable form of evidence and can be used to prove a defendant’s guilt or innocence.
  2. Circumstantial evidence — suggests a fact but does not directly prove it. This type of evidence relies on inference and logical reasoning to draw conclusions. For example, if a defendant is seen in an area where a crime occurred, this could be circumstantial evidence of their involvement.

Physical evidence is tangible items or substances used to prove a fact or link a defendant to a crime. Examples of physical evidence include weapons, fingerprints, DNA samples, or documents.

Documentary evidence is written or recorded materials that can be used in court. This type of evidence is used to prove a point, such as contracts, emails, or medical records.

Expert evidence is testimony or opinions offered by qualified experts in a specific field to help the court understand complex issues or scientific evidence. For example, a medical expert may be called to testify about a defendant’s mental state or physical condition.

Collection of evidence 

Admissibility of evidence

Evidence must be lawfully obtained and relevant to the case to be admissible in court. Criminal law case precedents also act as an important aspect in determining the admissibility of evidence in the court.

Collection and preservation of evidence

When collecting and preserving evidence, it is important to maintain the chain of custody. This means that the evidence must be handled properly and not be subject to contamination or alteration. Law enforcement officers must document each step of the process and properly label all evidence so it can be tracked.

Presentation of evidence

Evidence must be presented in a clear and organized manner for it to be useful. Attorneys must explain the relevance of the evidence to the court and present it in a way that is convincing and understandable. Arguments must be based on facts and legal precedents.

  • Direct evidence directly proves a fact, while circumstantial evidence suggests a fact but requires inference.
  • Physical evidence includes tangible items linking a defendant to a crime, while documentary evidence is written or recorded materials used to prove a point.
  • Expert evidence is provided by qualified experts to help the court understand complex issues.
  • Evidence must be lawfully obtained, relevant, and presented clearly to be admissible in court.


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