Explanation of Criminal Evidence

Nearly every person, regardless of whether or not he/she has ever been charged with a crime, is familiar with the phrase "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He or she must prove every element of a crime in order for the defendant to be found guilty. However, many people are not certain about criminal evidence, and its various forms. Also in question is what evidence is admissible in court, and what evidence is not admissible in court. This article will give readers a clearer understanding of the entire concept of criminal evidence.

What is criminal evidence?

Criminal evidence may be introduced to either prove a crime or support the defendant's innocence, depending on the situation. Evidence may be physical or verbal, and may include:

Examples of physical evidence - surveillance tapes or other video footage, photos, weapons (guns, knives, or any instrument used in the commission of a crime), DNA or blood, footprints, drugs, drug paraphernalia, drug money, or other illegal contraband, forensic or scientific evidence, etc.

Examples of verbal evidence - testimony presented by expert or other witnesses, such as a witness to the alleged crime, a defendant's confession, search warrants or other files/documents containing text indicating the defendant's guilt, recordings of spoken evidence (taped phone conversation, wiretap, etc.).

Direct and circumstantial evidence

Direct evidence leaves little doubt of the defendant's guilt, if any. For example, a videotape that records the defendant injuring or killing a victim, or exchanging drugs for money supports the prosecutor's claim that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, circumstantial evidence only suggests guilt, and is not concrete evidence. For instance, a witness may testify regarding the description of a weapon allegedly used in a crime, and the defendant owns a weapon that "fits" that description. This does not prove guilt. Although the defendant may own a weapon that exactly matches the description given by a witness, it does not mean the defendant committed the crime.

What evidence is or is not admissible in court?

The United States Constitution guarantees certain rights to criminal defendants, making certain types of evidence inadmissible at trial. Regardless of the defendant's rights, however, some rules have exceptions, and may vary from one state to another. Whether or not certain evidence may be admissible at trial is something that should be discussed with an experienced Orlando and Central Florida criminal defense attorney.

Certain evidence such as the types listed below may not be permitted at trial against a criminal defendant:

  • Self-incrimination - Every criminal defendant has the right not to take the witness stand as it could cause the defendant to incriminate him- or herself upon cross examination by the prosecutor.
  • Criminal defendants may confront those who accuse them of a crime under the Sixth Amendment.
  • Character evidence - The defendant's personality or character cannot be used by the prosecution as evidence that the defendant did commit a crime, however if the defendant raises the issue first, character evidence may be used.
  • Plea bargaining - Any statements made by the defendant while discussing plea bargains may not be used at trial against the defendant.
Admissible evidence

Admissible evidence includes evidence such as testimony, documents, or other tangible evidence that may be used to prove a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, whether introduced to a jury or judge in an effort to prove an element in a criminal case. Some of the factors that work to determine whether evidence is admissible at trial include:

Whether the evidence is relevant; it must prove or disprove an essential fact or element of the case

Whether the evidence is reliable, which essentially means coming from a credible source, for instance, the credibility of a witness's testimony

When evidence wastes the jury's time, is misleading, is hearsay, or unfairly prejudicial, it may not be admissible at trial. For example, presenting dozens of witnesses to testify as to a defendant's character is not necessary, and is a waste of time. In addition, true experts are the only individuals who can provide expert testimony; a lay person's testimony cannot be considered as that of an expert.

The court must analyze a wide variety of factors before determining if evidence is admissible and may be used at trial. As you can see, the subject of criminal evidence is quite complex and even confusing to the average person who is not familiar with criminal law.

It is recommended that anyone who has questions regarding criminal evidence consult with a seasoned attorney, as the evidence is the most critical aspect of determining a defendant's guilt or innocence.

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