Circumstantial evidence

Introduction

Circumstantial evidence is evidence of facts that the court can draw conclusions from. For example, if an assault happened on O'Connell Street at 6.15pm, you can give evidence that you saw the accused walking down O'Connell Street at 6pm. In that situation, you are giving the court circumstantial evidence. The court can draw conclusions from the fact that the accused was on O'Connell Street at 6pm, but you have not given evidence about whether the accused attacked a person.

Examples of circumstantial evidence

Common examples of circumstantial evidence include:

  • Evidence that establishes a motive
  • Evidence of an opportunity to commit the offence
  • Evidence of the accused’s state of mind when the offence was committed
  • Evidence of the accused preparing for the crime
  • Evidence of the accused having items that could be used to commit the offence
  • Evidence of identification, for example, the accused’s DNA, fingerprints or mobile phone records
  • Evidence that the accused committed similar crimes around the same time the alleged offence was committed
  • Evidence of the accused giving different versions of events

Examples of circumstantial evidence in theft cases include:

  • Evidence of the accused's fingerprints at the scene of the crime
  • The fact that the accused was found with a large amount of money and was unable to explain why they had it

Examples of circumstantial evidence in murder cases 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 the accused lied about their alibi
  • The fact that the accused was in the area when the offence was committed
  • The fact that the defendant's blood or DNA matches blood or DNA found on the victim's body

Rules

Generally, circumstantial evidence can be admitted in court. However, the courts are careful when the only evidence in a case is circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence must be examined closely and it should be looked at together with other evidence. A court would be very slow to convict a defendant based on one piece of circumstantial evidence, for example, if the defendant’s fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime but there was no other evidence.

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

Further information

You should get legal advice for more detailed information on this.

Page edited: 16 May 2019