Direct vs Circumstantial Evidence

When the initial investigation of a crime scene takes place, the officers and detectives on duty begin searching for clues as to who committed the crime and why did the crime occur. The entire investigation comes down to two key factors, direct and circumstantial evidence. One of the evidence markers weighs significantly heavier than the other, direct evidence being much more substantial than any circumstantial evidence. However, circumstantial evidence may build an entire case.

Direct evidence is defined by Criminal Investigation Basic Perspectives, Eleventh Edition as an eye witness who through one of the five senses witnesses the crime committed. To further breakdown this definition of direct evidence, one may turn to Merriam-Websters dictionary which defines direct as to point, extend, or project in a specified line or course.

This definition may easily be applied to the criminal investigation stating that the specified line or course leads from eye witness to culprit. The main issue with direct evidence is that investigators may not find such a witness, or in the event that they do, the witness may not want to talk for fear of retribution.

Circumstantial evidence is defined by Criminal Investigation Basic Perspectives as evidence from which an interference can be drawn and which includes items such as physical evidence. Physical evidence includes weapons, blood, imprints and impressions, tool marks, dust, dirt and other traces, documents and miscellaneous trace or transfer evidence.

While circumstantial evidence may build an entire case, sometimes doubt may be placed over such evidence as it does not always directly lead to one suspect. Circumstantial evidence also requires that a judge and/or jury make indirect judgments, or inferences, about what transpired at the scene of a crime. This is the core issue with circumstantial evidence. When enough pieces of circumstantial evidence are tied together however, it may strengthen the investigators case.