January 9, 2018
How many times have you heard a person declare, “You can’t convict him! The evidence is only circumstantial!” What this person doesn’t understand is that circumstantial evidence is often more than enough to convict someone of a crime. In fact, circumstantial is often better evidence than direct evidence. Read on to understand what circumstantial evidence is and why a prosecutor can convict you based on such evidence.
Direct versus Circumstantial Evidence
Direct evidence is very easy to understand – one example is eyewitness testimony or physical proof that you actually committed the crime. For instance, someone might see a person walk into a grocery store with a gun and point it at the cashier, demanding money. Because the witness saw the person commit the crime, their testimony is direct evidence.
Circumstantial evidence is different. It requires that the jury make an inference that the fact supports the conclusion that the defendant committed the crime. For example, a $100 bill might have been stolen and the defendant’s fingerprint is found on it. A juror might infer from the presence of the fingerprint that the defendant took the money.
Weaknesses in Direct Evidence
You might think direct evidence is particularly compelling but witnesses often get confused. Experts estimate that about 25 percent of identifications are wrong when the eyewitness doesn’t know the criminal suspect, so there’s no reason to assume direct evidence is always enough to convict.
In particular, witnesses may be stressed out and, as a result, not be able to process or remember what someone looked like. Witnesses also tend to focus on weapons, so they’ll usually focus on a gun or knife and bypass looking at the criminal’s face. For these reasons, direct evidence isn’t always “better” and circumstantial evidence isn’t necessarily weaker.
Compelling Circumstantial Evidence
Imagine that a woman’s body washes up ashore after having been missing for a week. The body has several stab wounds. The police go to the victim’s house and find several drops of the victim’s blood in her husband’s car. Furthermore, a neighbor saw the woman and her husband get into a fight the day before the wife went missing.
Pretty compelling, huh? Depending on the other circumstances, this evidence might be enough to convict the husband of murder. But guess what? It’s entirely circumstantial. No one saw the husband stab his wife or dump her body in the ocean. No one saw the stabbed wife bleed in the car. The neighbor only saw the couple fighting. If you believe the husband probably did it, then you’re relying on inferences, and these inferences make the evidence circumstantial.
Defending Against Circumstantial Evidence
By its nature, circumstantial evidence usually allows jurors to draw more than one inference. For example, blood stains in a car might support the inference that a defendant stabbed his victim in the car. However, the victim might have cut herself in the car, too—especially if she was frequently in the vehicle. A good criminal defense lawyer can explain away circumstantial evidence by offering innocent explanations that don’t incriminate his client. But when the prosecutor presents a mountain of circumstantial evidence, it can require skill and experience to challenge.
Call a St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Today
A good criminal defense attorney will know how to build a defense against circumstantial evidence. At Khonsari Law Group, we thoroughly review the evidence and carefully explain to the jury how the evidence doesn’t support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Call us today for a free consultation at (727) 269-5300 or fill out an online contact form.