We will put forth a brief explanation about ‘direct evidence’, and at the same time also explain how it differs from ‘circumstantial evidence’.
Burden of Proof
In legal proceedings, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, which implies that the onus is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty.
Evidence is what decides a case in both, civil and criminal trials. It helps the parties involved make their case as to what happened and who should be held responsible for the happening. In the courtroom, evidence is anything that supports the truth, i.e., the guilt or innocence, as long as it is admissible in a legal proceeding. It can be the testimony of a witness, documentary evidence like a contract or will, or physical evidence in the form of some material object.
Evidence is broadly classified into two types: direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. While the definition of direct evidence would be that which directly links a person to a crime, circumstantial evidence only implies that the said person has committed the crime, and calls for reasoning.
What is Direct Evidence?
In the field of law, direct evidence―as the name suggests―is any evidence that provides direct proof of the truth of an assertion. Simply put, it validates the assertion of guilt or innocence. The simplest and by far the most common example of direct evidence will be the testimony of an eyewitness.
Having said that, there are a few points that need to be taken into consideration. Firstly, it should directly prove or disprove a fact without making any assumption or inference. If it does resort to assumption or inference, then it will be circumstantial evidence. In other words, it should be based on facts, not coincidences. Secondly, it should be based on personal knowledge or observation, not hearsay.
Depending on who the witness is, the weight of direct evidence will vary. If the witness is a well-known and respected member of society, then his testimony will have a stronger influence on the jury than that of a witness with a dubious record. In either case, direct evidence is of great help for the jury, as it lessens the degree to which they have to infer whether it was the defendant who committed the crime.
Examples of Direct Evidence
As we said earlier, the most common example of direct evidence is eyewitness testimony. Let’s say, for example, you are walking down the street, and as you pass the alley, you see a man stabbing another man with a knife. In this case, your testimony will be direct evidence. Similarly, in an accident-related personal injury case, the testimony of a bystander who witnessed the accident take place will be considered as direct evidence.
As for physical evidence which qualifies as direct evidence, an apt example will be a copy of the contract in a breach of contract case. Then, there are cases where surveillance tapes and other such documentary evidence can also act as direct evidence; a case where an individual is accused of shoplifting will be an apt example of the same.
Direct Evidence Vs. Circumstantial Evidence
The basic difference between direct and circumstantial evidence is that, the latter relies on inference or assumption. In fact, circumstantial evidence almost always has more than one explanation. If, for instance, one person’s fingerprints are found at the scene of a crime, it may mean, (i) he has committed the crime, (ii) he was there when the crime was committed, or (iii) he has nothing to do with the crime; his fingerprints were found there because he had visited the place earlier.
Elaborating on the example we discussed earlier, let’s say you are walking down the street, when all of sudden you hear a scream and see that a person comes running out of an alley. You go inside to see what has happened, and find a body lying there. In this case, your testimony―that you saw the accused running out of the alley, will be considered circumstantial evidence.
While circumstantial evidence usually complements direct evidence to solidify the case, it is of immense importance when it comes to cases where direct evidence is lacking. Then again, at times, circumstantial evidence is enough to prove that someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Summarizing the concept, direct evidence directly supports the truth of an assertion, while circumstantial evidence makes an inference to support the truth of an assertion. Thus, when it comes to conviction, both are valuable in varying degrees, and a combination of both can solidify the case.