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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Relevancy of Evidence

Relevancy of Evidence
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).
Relevancy means that the information is probative: The information tends to prove or disprove a material fact. Relevant evidence can be both direct and circumstantial in form.

Direct evidence is straightforward: It is a witness's testimony or a physical object.

A witness's testimony may be:

  • What was seen, heard, smelled, tasted or felt.
  • What was told to the witness.
  • What the witness created.
  • What the witness thinks.

Some testimony may be recorded before trial or, although live, may be brought into trial through technological means, such as closed-circuit or video television.

Direct evidence that is physical in nature can be an object retrieved from a location, a living person or a dead body. Direct physical evidence can be created outside of trial, such as:

  • A crime scene photograph.
  • A tire impression cast.
  • Data from a testing instrument.

Direct physical evidence can also be created at the time of trial as an illustration, such as a child drawing or indicating the part of their body that was allegedly touched or injured.

Conversely, circumstantial evidence is indirect proof of a fact. Circumstantial evidence is information that can be relied on to infer the existence of another fact. Circumstantial evidence describes or defines parameters or situations from which a reliable conclusion may be drawn. Examples of circumstantial evidence are:

  • Reports on weather conditions.
  • Possession of recently stolen property.

For more on relevancy, see Pretrial Rules of Evidence, Relevance.

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