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Circumstantial evidence

Information

Circumstantial evidence is evidence of facts from which inferences or can be drawn.

For example, in an assault case where the crime took place on O'Connell Street at 6.15pm, you may give evidence that you saw the accused walking down O'Connell Street at 6pm. In that situation, you are giving circumstantial evidence to the court.

Inferences or conclusions may be drawn from the fact that the accused was on O'Connell Street at 6pm, but you have not given evidence as to the actual fact at issue in the case - whether the accused attacked a person.

In a case of a theft, examples of circumstantial evidence include:

  • Evidence of the defendant's fingerprints at the scene of the crime
  • The fact that the defendant was found with a large amount of money without being able to give any reason

In the case of a murder, examples of circumstantial evidence include:

  • The fact that the accused had an intense dislike of the victim
  • The fact that the accused behaved in a bizarre and suspicious way after the offence
  • The fact that he or she lied about his or her alibi
  • The fact that he or she was in the area at the time that the offence was committed
  • The fact that the defendant's blood or DNA corresponds to blood or DNA found on the victim's body.

Rules

The general rule is that circumstantial evidence is admissible. However, the courts are careful when the only evidence in a case is circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence must be closely examined and it must be looked at cumulatively. In other words, a court would be very slow to convict a defendant on the basis of one piece of circumstantial evidence alone, for example, the fact that his or her fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime.

However, if there are a number of different strands of circumstantial evidence, taken together, they have more weight. For example, in a theft case, if the defendant was seen in the area at the time of the theft, his or her fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime and if he or she was later found with a large sum of money that he or she could not explain, then the court would be more likely to convict the accused.

Further information

For more detailed information you should seek legal advice.

Page updated: 24 December 2013

Language

Gaeilge

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