So What’s Evidence?

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Whether it was the popular podcast Serial or Netflix’s Making a Murderer, the interest in the true crime genre has exploded and won’t be letting up anytime soon. We continue to be obsessed and entertained with crime, the criminals who commit it and their journey through the criminal justice system. True crime buffs have made Monster, Criminal, Crime Junkie, Up & Vanished, My Favorite Murder and Casefile some of the most popular true crime podcasts (which, are just a handful of the many true crime podcasts that have popped up in the last few years). Netflix just released Exhibit A, which is a true crime series that “shows how innocent people have been convicted of crimes with shaky forensic techniques, tools, touch DNA and cadaver dogs.” Prior to that, Netflix’s The Confession Tapes and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes were all the talk around the water cooler for true crime fans.

The truth is, there’s always been a huge interest in true crime from the days of Jack the Ripper in the 1880’s to the obsession with The Golden State Killer in the 1970’s to Jeffery Dhamer in the 1990’s. None of us will ever forget the news coverage of law enforcement rolling out those big bins of dismembered bodies out of Dhamer’s apartment back in 1991. Then there were shows like Unsolved Mysteries and an all-time favorite, Forensic Files

True crime fans are intrigued by the most violent of cases, the victim, the killer, wrongful convictions along with rightful convictions, an unfair criminal justice system and the process of justice of being served. And, then…there’s the evidence! There are always questions about the evidence in every criminal case, including every case focused on by true crime pod casters and docu-series producers. What evidence was presented at trial? What evidence should have been presented at trial? Was the evidence tampered with? Was the evidence planted? Was there evidence that should have been tested but was not? Were the tests reliable if tested? Is there new evidence that could possibly exonerate a person? Was the evidence sufficient to convict the defendant or acquit him/her? There’s always a question about the evidence!

WHAT IS EVIDENCE EXACTLY?

But, what is evidence exactly? If you’re a true crime buff and watched any of the mentioned shows or listened to any of the mentioned podcasts, then you have a pretty good idea about what courtroom evidence is. Evidence can be testimony, writings, material objects or other things offered in court to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact. Evidence is all the information given to the jurors during a jury trial or the judge during a bench trial. Evidence does not include, however, any statements made, or questions asked by the attorneys and judge in a case. Lawyers draw upon different types of evidence to tell a story–prosecutors with the goal of getting a conviction and criminal defense attorneys of getting a not-guilty verdict. 

TYPES OF EVIDENCE

Oral Testimony: Testimony by witnesses on the witness stand is featured in most all trials. In a trial, there can be: fact witnesses, expert witnesses and character witnesses. Fact witnesses are essentially eyewitnesses to an alleged crime; however, they may also testify to things they heard. For example, a coworker who heard the defendant admitting to another coworker that he killed his wife and buried her in the backyard of the home shared together is a fact witness. Fact witnesses testify about facts related to the case and need to have firsthand knowledge about the facts testified to. Expert witnesses use specialized knowledge to interpret evidence or explain evidence to the jury. For example, a DNA expert may be called to testify to explain what “touch DNA” is. Unlike fact witnesses, expert witnesses do not need to have firsthand knowledge of the events in a case. Sometimes, they are called to give testimony on documents they have reviewed (given to them by the prosecutor or criminal defense attorney). Lastly, there are character witnesses who offer information about the good or bad character of a party or witness in a case. 

Real Evidence: “Real” evidence is considered any physical evidence that a party claims played a direct role in a case. A bloody t-shirt seized from a defendant’s laundry room is “real” evidence as is a murder weapon. All “real” evidence must be authenticated that the piece of physical evidence is what it claims to be. 

Documents: Documentary evidence encompasses any type of writing or recording of information. In a criminal case, for instance, a witness to a kidnapping may have written down the defendant’s license plate number on a piece of paper. Here, the prosecutor may try to enter the piece of paper (i.e. the document) into evidence. In our ever-changing world and with advances in technology, there is an expansive list of documents that parties can offer as evidence such as emails and social media posts. 

Demonstrative Evidence: Demonstrative evidence is evidence created by the parties to illustrate concepts or facts to the jury. Such common demonstrative evidence includes charts, tables, pictures, maps and graphs. Lawyers may also use demonstrative evidence such as PowerPoint slides and computer simulations. 

Stipulations: If both parties in a case agree on a fact, they can stipulate that the fact is true for purposes of the litigation. To introduce a stipulation as evidence, both parties must agree to its exact language. 

Judicial Notice: There are some facts that are indisputably true. Such as Atlanta is the capital of Georgia. The trial judge can take judicial notice of the fact, which must be “generally known” or “accurately and readily determined.” 

UNDERSTANDING CIRCUMSTANTIAL & DIRECT EVIDENCE

Circumstantial evidence is any evidence that requires the jury to make an inference connecting the evidence with a disputed fact. Direct evidence, in contrast, requires no inferential bridge. Direct evidence directly establishes a contested fact. Here’s the perfect example, from Learning Evidence: From the Federal Rules to the Courtroom, explaining the difference in circumstantial and direct evidence: 

“An eyewitness who testifies that she saw the defendant plunge a dagger into the victim’s chest offers direct evidence that the defendant killed the victim. A witness who testifies that he saw the defendant washing blood off his hands shortly after the victim was killed offers circumstantial evidence of the same fact. For the jury to use the latter witness’ evidence to conclude that the defendant killed the victim, it must assume that (1) the blood came from the victim, and (2) the defendant got the blood on his hands when he killed the victim, rather than when he tried to aid the victim or perform some other act. This chain of assumptions makes the hand-washing circumstantial rather than direct evidence that the defendant killed the victim.” Each party in a case may introduce either type of evidence and a verdict can rest entirely on circumstantial evidence. 

CONTACT BIXON LAW TODAY

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, call Bixon Law today. You need an experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyer on your side who will defend your legal rights and vigorously advocate on your behalf to have your case dismissed or the charges against you reduced. As experienced trial attorneys, we are also not afraid to take your case to trial if necessary. We represent clients in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. We are lawyers who are committed to helping people in difficult situations and we invite you to call us at 404-551-5684 for a free consultation today.