Rules of Evidence

When facing criminal charges and even before you are formally charged, you will likely hear the word “evidence” thrown around a lot. Most criminal cases depend on evidence and without it there would be no charges. But, just what is evidence in a criminal case and how does it affect your case?

There are numerous types of evidence and even more rules about the gathering, handling, and use of evidence under U.S. and state criminal laws. Because of this, understanding evidence can be difficult and often cause more stress than it resolves.

For in depth questions about the evidence in your case, a consultation with a defense lawyer is critical. For a general understanding, however, read on.

Generally, evidence is: testimony or physical items used to establish blame in a criminal case.

This means that testimonies, whether written, spoken, recorded, or otherwise communicated are considered evidence as much as physical “exhibits” are.

There are two basic types of evidence:

  1. Direct evidence
  2. Circumstantial evidence

All evidence falls under one of these two categories.

Direct evidence delivers information that is true without requiring inference. In other words, it proves a fact beyond a reasonable doubt.

Circumstantial evidence, however, is more common but is not direct proof. Instead it is a fact that can be used to infer another fact.

Let’s look at some examples.

Direct Evidence
  • Surveillance footage showing the commission of a crime
  • A witness who testifies he saw Mr. A shoot Mr. B
Circumstantial Evidence
  • An expert who testifies that the bullet which killed Mr. B came from a 9 mm. weapon, though not specifying which one
  • A witness who testifies that they arrived at a crime scene to find Mr. A standing over Mr. B with a smoking gum

In most cases the prosecution uses both circumstantial and direct evidence to prove the guilt of the defendant.

What Can The Prosecution Use Against Me as Evidence?

Not all evidence is admissible in court. In order for evidence to be used against you in court, it has to pass several qualifications.

First and foremost, the gathering or use of evidence must not violate your constitutional rights. For instance, if the search used to gather the evidence was illegal, those things found during the search cannot be used against you.

Secondly, the evidence must be relevant. If you are charged with possession of crack cocaine and the prosecution wishes to discuss or question a witness about your erratic behavior the week prior, it won’t likely be admitted because it doesn’t relate specifically to you having constructive possession of crack cocaine at the time of arrest.

It cannot create undue prejudice in the jury. Gory details of an assault case may be left out for their likelihood to color the jury’s opinion of the events. They are there to determine if you committed the assault not to decide how gruesome it was.

Lastly, the evidence cannot be hearsay. Simply stated, hearsay is rumor. However, the legal definition is far more complicated. Hearsay is a very important but very complex legal matter with many exceptions.

In the representation of criminal defendants, it is the defense lawyer’s job to make sure that the evidence used against you fits all these, and more, criterion. There are literally hundreds of rules and laws regarding evidence. It is confusing and you shouldn’t be expected to understand them all.

If you are facing criminal charges, the prosecution likely has evidence against you. If your rights have been violated or if the evidence is irrelevant to the case your defense attorney should do everything they can to ensure it isn’t used against you.

To fully understand the evidence in your case and the impact it can have on your criminal charges, you need to speak with a defense attorney. Call us today to talk about what the prosecution has against you and how it will affect your future.