You may be familiar with the words “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” In the world of criminal justice, this phrase constitutes a standard of proof that must be met before a jury can convict a defendant of a crime. In order to reach this standard, a prosecutor must show sufficient evidence—either direct or indirect—that points to the defendant’s guilt and leaves no reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors.
Prosecutors as well as defense attorneys rely on evidence to support their arguments. Generally, all evidence can be classified in a number of ways. For example, physical evidence is distinguished from verbal evidence in that physical evidence is something tangible—such as a knife or a piece of clothing—while verbal evidence usually comes from witnesses’ testimony.
Evidence can further be classified as either direct or indirect. Indirect evidence, also referred to as circumstantial evidence, does not prove or disprove the fact in question; rather, it points to facts which may support proof or disproof of the fact in question. In other words, guilt or innocence of a crime may be inferred from sufficient circumstantial evidence.
Direct evidence, on the other hand, points directly to the fact in question. In a murder trial, for example, an eyewitness who watched the defendant kill the victim could provide testimony of that fact. In this case, the witness’s testimony would be considered direct evidence.
Sometimes, an eyewitness account may not be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence, even though it is considered direct evidence. In other words, one eyewitness testimony might not be sufficient to demonstrate guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.