Real evidence is material, tangible evidence such as an object, a tape recording, a computer printout or a photograph. Real evidence does not usually stand alone. The court will normally hear evidence from a witness (often an expert witness) explaining the significance or the relevance of the real evidence.
Some examples of real evidence are covered in this document.
An example of a material object in a murder case is the murder weapon. This is a piece of real evidence, which can be introduced in court.
Sometimes, it may be impossible to produce a material object at the trial because it has been destroyed or lost. Photographs, replicas or the oral evidence of someone who has seen the object may be admissible instead. Sometimes, if the material object cannot be shown in court a 'view' or an out-of-court inspection may be carried out.
Since 1864, photographs have been admissible in evidence. Photographs can be introduced as evidence of what they depict. For example, in a murder trial, photographs may be introduced as evidence of the position and state that the deceased's body was in when it was found.
In order for a photograph to be admitted in evidence, it is first necessary to prove its authenticity. The photographer must prove that he or she took the photograph and the person who has processed the photograph must also give a statement that the photograph is untouched.
For a photograph to be admitted in evidence, the person who took the photograph does not need to be a professional photographer. For example, in a civil case, photographs that you have taken of damage done to your car in a road traffic accident will be admissible (as long as you are available to give evidence in court about when and how you took them).
Increasingly, incidents or crimes are being captured and recorded on video or CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) recorders. Such recordings are accepted by the courts in Ireland as being real evidence. Indeed, where evidence of a crime is caught on a street or shop camera, there is a duty on the Gardaí to seize and retain the recording for a reasonable time, even if they do not intend to use the recording as part of the prosecution case.
In order to use video/tape recordings as evidence, the prosecution must prove that the tape or video recording is authentic or genuine. The prosecution must explain how and why the recording was made and who had control of the recording afterwards.
The defence may object on these grounds and it will then be a matter for the judge to decide whether or not to allow the recording to be put to the jury.
If the Gardaí decide not to use a recording (seized during the investigation) as evidence at the trial, the prosecution or Gardaí are under a duty to notify the defence of the existence of the recording. They are are also required to give advance notice of their intention to destroy it. The reason for this is that although the recording may not be of any use to the prosecution, the recording may assist the accused in proving that he/she was not at the scene of the crime.
While there is a duty on the Gardaí to collect video evidence, they do not have to go to extreme lengths to do so. For example, it would not be necessary for the Gardaí to collect every piece of video evidence on O’Connell Street in Dublin if there was a theft from a shop on the street.
"A view" is an out-of-court inspection of a place or an object that is impossible to bring into court. For example, the judge (and the jury if it is a criminal case) and the parties may leave the court to go to inspect a large machine or a motor vehicle that is of importance to the case.
A view is admissible as evidence in a criminal case or a civil case. In most cases, it is not necessary to leave the court to examine a place or an object as a photograph or a video recording of the view in question will be acceptable to the court.
Forensic evidence is material or traces of material that have been analysed by a forensic science laboratory.
Forensic evidence is collected by members of the Gardai who are specially trained for that purpose. The aim is to ensure that the samples are not compromised or contaminated in any way either during or after the collection of the sample.
Forensic science laboratories routinely closely examine materials such as paint, glass, soil, hair, fibres, firearm residues, fire accelerants and footprint samples. These samples may have been taken from the scene of the crime or may have been found on the victim or the suspect.
Forensic evidence has many uses:
- The presence of a material in itself may be significant, e.g., presence of firearms residue on a suspect's clothes,
- Samples of materials may be matched, e.g., fibres found on the suspect's jumper match the victim's blouse
- Unique marks may be identified e.g., footprints.
Forensic evidence may tend to prove that a suspect was at the scene of the crime. For example, where a window was broken by a burglar to get into a house, the suspect's clothing will be examined by the laboratory for small glass fragments. The window will also be examined for fibres that may have come from the burglar's clothing. See also DNA evidence.
When forensic evidence is introduced in court, it will usually be explained by an expert - a forensic scientist. The scientist will explain what was done with the sample in question and how it was analysed. The scientist will then explain the laboratory's findings.
For more detailed information you should seek legal advice.