21 Different Types of Evidence (And How They Affect a Case)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 17, 2022

Published June 22, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Evidence is an important factor in court cases and often helps a jury decide the verdict of a case. Professionals in the criminal justice and law industries collect, use and examine evidence to prepare timelines and relay information to juries. If you're participating in jury duty or you work in a position that often collects or examines the evidence, it may be beneficial to learn about different types of evidence used in court cases.

In this article, we define evidence and explore 21 different types of evidence you may encounter in a courtroom.

21 different types of evidence

Understanding different kinds of evidence is essential for anyone interested in pursuing a career as a law enforcement officer, forensics specialist or legal professional. Here are 21 types of evidence introduced in jury trials that can affect a case:

1. Admissible evidence

Admissible evidence is a type of evidence that judges allow lawyers to present in court. Judges determine admissibility based on relevance, authenticity and value. Admissible evidence is factual, pertains to a specific case and possesses a value that exceeds other considerations, such as bias or shock value. Legal teams discover before a trial begins whether the judge approved any evidence they submitted.

Related: Guide To Become a Judge (With 9 Steps and FAQs)

2. Inadmissible evidence

Inadmissible evidence is evidence that lawyers can't present to a jury. Forms of evidence judges consider inadmissible include hearsay, prejudicial, improperly obtained or irrelevant items. For example, investigators use polygraph tests to determine whether a person is lying about the events of a case. The results often qualify as inadmissible because they work by measuring a person's level of anxiety. If a person experiences anxiety for other reasons or is able to remain calm under pressure, the test can produce inaccurate results.

3. Direct evidence

Direct evidence is a general term for any type of evidence that links a defendant directly to a crime. This type of evidence is typically easy to understand for a jury. For instance, if a jury watches a video of a defendant committing a crime, it usually requires no further examination or testing to determine its accuracy. Examples of direct evidence include:

  • A recorded confession by the defendant

  • A defendant's fingerprints on a weapon used to commit a crime

  • Surveillance footage of a defendant committing a crime

Related: How To Become a Ballistics Expert in 4 Steps

4. Circumstantial evidence

Circumstantial evidence describes information that doesn't directly connect a defendant to a crime but rather implies a connection exists. These examples don't directly prove that a defendant is guilty, but they provide background or context to a crime. Attorneys often rely on circumstantial evidence if direct evidence isn't available or to compile a timeline of a crime. Examples of circumstantial evidence include:

  • An eyewitness account stating that the defendant was near a crime around the time it occurred

  • Fingerprints at the scene of a crime taken from a location where the defendant would be present anyway, such as at their home or workplace

  • A witness' claim that the defendant stated threats or talked about committing the crime before it occurred

5. Statistical evidence

Statistical evidence refers to numerical data used to prove or disprove guilt in jury trials. Judges typically only allow certain statistics in court. They usually determine that legal teams can introduce statistics resulting from scientific research while denying less reliable methods such as polls. Statistics usually establish possibilities or correlations, so individual members of a jury may consider a particular statistic's connection to a crime differently.

Related: 50 Statistics Terms To Know (With Definitions)

6. Real evidence

Real evidence, also known as physical evidence, is a material object with a connection to the defendant's potential role in a crime. There are two types of physical evidence. Individual physical evidence involves pieces that are unique to a person, such as DNA or fingerprints. Class physical evidence relates to a certain segment of the population, which may help professionals narrow down a list of suspects. Examples of class physical evidence include blood type, tire tread and weapon manufacturers.

Related: How To Become an Evidence Technician

7. Prima facie evidence

Prima facie evidence, sometimes called presumptive evidence, uses other types of evidence gathered from a crime scene to make a plausible assumption. A rebuttal from an opposing legal team can later determine prima facie evidence to be inaccurate. For example, if a prosecutor concludes a person is deceased because of the defendant's alleged crimes, the defense team may counter this prima facie evidence by introducing doubt about the connection between the victim and the crime.

Related: FAQ: Should I Be a Criminal Lawyer? (With Salary Info)

8. Demonstrative evidence

Demonstrative evidence is information that legal teams present to a jury through visual aids, such as charts or diagrams. It typically includes the presentation of physical evidence, such as clothing from a crime scene that may connect the defendant to a crime. This type of evidence can help a jury better understand a lawyer's argument about the alleged behaviors of the defendant.

9. Documentary evidence

Documentary evidence includes any type of written, verbal or visual recordings. In most cases, it refers to paper documents, such as handwritten notes or letters. Photographs, audio recordings and video also make up documentary evidence, which legal teams use to prove the validity of facts in a case.

10. Impression evidence

Impression evidence refers to imprints left in the material found at a crime scene that may link a defendant to a crime. Forensics experts handle impression evidence carefully because it may deteriorate or wash away easily. They often create molds of the evidence to preserve them for use during an investigation. Attorneys may present impression evidence to a jury if it's relevant and can affect the outcome of a case. Examples of impression evidence include:

  • Footprints in the dirt around a victim's home

  • Holes or cracks in walls caused by the blunt force of an object

  • Tire tracks in the sand near a crime scene

Related: What Skills Do Crime Scene Investigators Use? With Examples

11. Testimonial evidence

Testimonial evidence is information provided by a witness who responds to questions from one or both legal teams under oath. Attorneys from the prosecution and the defense present witnesses, and they often answer questions from attorneys on both sides. Direct examination occurs when witnesses respond to questions from the attorney who presented them. Cross-examination occurs when they respond to questions from the opposing legal team.

Related: How To Become a Trial Lawyer in 5 Steps

12. Character evidence

Character evidence is information that attempts to portray the defendant in a positive or negative way. A common type of character evidence is testimony from a witness who knows the defendant and can attest to their typical behavior. Lawyers usually use character evidence to prove a defendant's motive in a case.

13. Habit evidence

Legal teams use habit evidence to highlight a defendant's consistent actions during specific circumstances. For example, a lawyer may argue that their client accused of committing a crime at a college library at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday met with a study group at 3 p.m. every Tuesday in a different location on campus. Therefore, the defendant was not at the scene of the crime when it occurred. Unlike presumptive evidence, which considers a defendant's unfavorable behavior in the past, habit evidence is admissible in court.

14. Hearsay evidence

Hearsay evidence is information provided outside of a court setting to someone involved in the trial. In most cases, judges don't allow hearsay evidence because the attorney for an opposing law team doesn't have an opportunity to cross-examine the person who provided the information. Some jurisdictions allow it under certain circumstances. Examples of hearsay that a judge may permit include witness admissions that don't benefit the witness by sharing them or statements people make shortly before their expected passing.

15. Forensic evidence

Forensic evidence, or scientific evidence, is an essential form of evidence in a jury trial. It often introduces indisputable facts that investigators and forensic professionals prove using scientific methods. Forensic evidence primarily refers to genetic information, such as DNA and fingerprints. It also may include evidence proven by physics and other forms of science, such as ballistics. Its reliability makes it an important factor in whether juries decide to convict or exonerate a defendant in criminal cases.

Related: What Is Forensic Science?

16. Trace evidence

Trace evidence includes tiny pieces of physical matter that transfer onto a surface when someone commits a crime. Trace evidence can help investigators examine a crime scene thoroughly and develop connections to suspects. It's typically admissible in court, so legal teams often present it to juries to help them understand certain events that occurred in the case. Examples of this may include:

  • Gunshot residue

  • Hair

  • Fibers

  • Dirt

  • Paint

  • Pollen

Related: How To Become a Crime Scene Investigator

17. Expert witness evidence

Expert witness evidence is similar to eyewitness testimony because it involves an individual's verbal statements provided under oath. Instead of asking questions to someone who witnessed a crime, lawyers recruit experts in their field to answer questions related to a particular case. For example, a doctor may serve as an expert witness in a murder case because they can confirm facts or disprove theories about how a victim's injuries occurred.

18. Exculpatory evidence

Exculpatory evidence is any evidence that might exonerate the defendant. Defense teams often present exculpatory evidence to juries to introduce reasonable doubt or to justify or excuse a defendant's actions. The Brady Rule, first introduced in 1963, establishes that prosecutors have a responsibility by law to disclose any exculpatory evidence they find to the jury.

19. Digital evidence

Digital evidence is evidence stored in binary form on computers, mobile phones and other types of electronic devices. This type of evidence has become increasingly more common as technology advances, and attorneys often use it in court. Common forms of digital evidence include text messages, emails and GPS data.

Related: How To Become a Computer Forensic Investigator

20. Corroborating evidence

Lawyers use corroborating evidence to confirm or authenticate other types of evidence presented in court. In most cases, it adds credibility to witness testimony. Types of corroborating evidence include medical records, court documents, signed affidavits and written statements sworn under oath.

21. Insufficient evidence

Insufficient evidence is a lack of evidence, which can cause the dismissal of a case. When law enforcement professionals arrest a suspect and charge them with a crime, the prosecution team carries the burden of proof. This means they have a duty to explain to the judge why they believe they have a case against the defendant. If the judge doesn't find the information sufficient to warrant an arrest, they may release the defendant and drop the case.

This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Consult with an attorney or lawyer for any legal issues you may be experiencing.

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