Parties in a criminal trial may introduce both direct evidence and circumstantial (indirect) evidence to prove their side of the case.
What is Circumstantial Evidence?
Circumstantial evidence is any evidence that helps the judge and/or judge infer that the accused committed the offence as charged. Circumstantial evidence must be relevant to an issue in the case. The judge presiding over the matter will determine whether circumstantial evidence is relevant.
Circumstantial evidence does not directly prove that the accused is guilty but allows the judge and/or jury to make the inference that the accused is guilty. The inferences made by the judge and/or jury must always be reasonable. It is important to note that while reasonable inference can be made, the judge and/or jury must never speculate.
Person A is on trial for murdering person B. During trial the Crown introduces security camera footage of a white vehicle speeding away from the crime scene just after the time of death. Police believe this vehicle was driven by the killer. The Crown introduces further evidence that person A drives a white vehicle of the same make, model and year as the car observed on the security footage.
This evidence is circumstantial evidence that person A is the killer. The judge and/or jury can infer from the evidence that the accused was near the murder scene just after the alleged murders and was seen leaving the area at a high rate of speed.
When is Circumstantial Evidence used in a Criminal Trial?
Circumstantial evidence is used often in criminal trials and in some cases is the only evidence available. It is possible for an individual to be convicted of a crime using circumstantial evidence alone, as long as the Crown has proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Common examples of circumstantial evidence include evidence of the accused’s knowledge and state of mind before, after, or at the time of the alleged offence, evidence of the accused’s habits, evidence of motive, opportunity, means, capacity, skill, or expertise, and if the victim had a disposition for violence. The accused’s actions following the alleged offence can also be important circumstantial evidence.
Person A is on trial for murdering his estranged spouse, person B. The Crown presents evidence that person A and person B were going through a contentious divorce at the time of person B’s death. Person B was stabbed a single time through the heart killing her instantly, there were no signs of forced entry to person B’s home, and the only person with keys was person A. Testimony was given that person B made it a habit to always keep her doors locked. The Crown also presents evidence that person A is a doctor and would have the skill and expertise to kill person B with one stab wound directly to the heart.
The Crown has presented circumstantial evidence of motive, opportunity, skill, and expertise. All this evidence reasonably suggests that person A is the perpetrator of the murder.