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How strong is circumstantial evidence in a murder trial?

On Behalf of | Mar 27, 2020 | Firm News

Anyone facing a murder charge will want to ensure that his or her trial is fair and complete. The fate of an accused person lies largely in the evidence that the prosecution and defense present to the jury. In some cases, the evidence is direct, such as DNA testing or videos of the murder, but there is also circumstantial evidence that does not directly prove anything but when taken in context seems to prove the prosecutor or defense attorney’s claim. 

CNN explains that circumstantial evidence often opens the door for the defense attorney to claim reasonable doubt because it is not as strong as direct evidence. However, there is no getting around using such evidence in a trial. Still, defense attorneys have a point that some types of circumstantial evidence are weaker than others. Circumstantial evidence is usually the most favorable when there is some type of direct evidence supporting it. 

Eyewitness example 

A good example of weak circumstantial evidence is eyewitness testimony. The legal system used to rely heavily on eyewitness testimony as evidence in trials. Over time, though, research has shown that eyewitness accounts for any type of situation, especially one involving criminal activity, are often unreliable. 

The amount of circumstantial evidence 

Another instance that will greatly increase the reliability of circumstantial evidence is when there is an abundance of it in a case. One circumstance is easy to push aside, but when they begin to pile up, it is much harder to accept that everything is circumstantial. 

Jury instructions 

In most situations, the court will instruct jurors to use their own reason to determine the validity and strength of circumstantial evidence. It is up to individual jurors to determine what the prosecution has proven in regards to the evidence. Judges may also warn jurors against drawing conclusions that do not completely match up with the presented evidence.