Evidence is proof that something has taken place; it is a manifestation of truth and facts on particular events, situations or circumstances. Evidence law can, therefore, be defined as confirmation and affirmation of reality. If there is no evidence, this means that there would be no proof; when the proof is lacking, this implies that the burden of proof cannot be achieved and as such, it will be impossible to have any rulings, judgments, and sentences (Arthur, 2007). The evidence is what dictates what the jury will decide and the course that the case will take. The
evidence is what leads to the ultimate truth. This paper will look into the sources of evidence law and several types of legal evidence.
Introduction: Sources of Evidence Law
Sources of evidence are categorized into three main primary sources. Just like many other laws, evidence laws originate from common laws, state statutes or constitutional laws. Common law is used to refer to laws which have been in existence for a very long time and thus they are
made legal legitimacy (Alan et al., 2008).
Content and Quality of Good Evidence
Before going to court, it is important to ensure that the evidence to be presented to the jury is accurate, relevant, and weight and that it will not stumble when subjected to substantive and procedural admissibility tests. There are some important considerations that have to be made regarding the evidence, for example, whether the evidence is material or immaterial; if it is inclined to a central primary force or whether it is inclined to an issue present in the litigation; whether the evidence is prejudicial or it may reduce its power of proof. As such, evidence of good quality has to meet two functions (Alan et al., 2008). First and foremost, it has to overcome any barriers and hindrances to admissibility and acceptability and secondly, it has to be relevant, material in nature but should not be too provocative, contentious or subversive (Gregory, 2006).
Types and Forms of Evidence
There are various types and forms of legal evidence, and they are analyzed and discussed below:
Judicially Noticed Evidence
Judicially noticed evidence could be described as information which is known and is familiar with the community and the society. It is scientifically acceptable, deemed as error free, correct in detail and authentic. Many judicially noticed evidence are accepted and used without the backing and support of fundamental requirements and needs, official and legal identification and legitimate bona fide processes. Many courts consent to and recognize judicially noticed evidence and thus overlook quintessential or standard procedural prerequisites and stipulations. This type of evidence is seen as reliable and therefore does not need any scrutiny, inquiries and further investigation. All evidence like these is referred to as judicially noticed (Gregory, 2006).
Judicially noticed evidence has certain characteristics and these include; it is a sincere verity, an indisputable case, and its general knowledge. Common forms of judicially noticed evidence include; scientific laws, state publications, official government records, adjudicative findings and natural fundamental truths or propositions that serve as the foundation for systems of belief or a particular chain of reasoning, public statutes, qualities and features of matter and legislative facts (Alan et al, 2008).
Physical Evidence refers to any proof which is brought forward, and it takes the form of a tangible physical object, it can be seen or touched. When dealing with criminal cases, examples of physical evidence may include fingerprints, samples of the DNA, weapon used in carrying out murder or blood.
Prima Facie Evidence
Prima Facie Evidence can be described as proof that is enough to launch a claim or defense up to when it is refuted or invalidated. The word Prima Facie means on the first appearance of something (Gregory, 2006). Therefore, this evidence is taken as satisfactory and can be used in demonstrating without reasonable doubt a particular fact. This fact can only be invalidated and disapproved by later evidence or systematic reasoning.
This type of evidence is mostly used in criminal cases, and it backs or supports the defendant, either partly or wholly removing any suspicions on them regarding the case. When a prosecutor finds any evidence, it is imperative that he or she informs the defendant about it and if he fails to do that, the case can be revoked.
Direct evidence can be defined as the sort of evidence that ascertains a fact and an actuality straightforwardly instead of secondary conclusion or assumption. Some examples of this type of proof include testimonies from eyewitnesses, confessions by a suspect or an appellant, firsthand account of a particular criminal assault by the casualty or the injured party. Many cases use direct evidence as for their major support. When the direct evidence gathered is bigger, this enhances the case of the advocate (Alan et al., 2008).
Circumstantial Evidence is also known as indirect evidence. It is mostly used in civil and criminal cases. However, it does not point out directly to the innocence or guilt or a suspect. This type of evidence does not show any direct agency, it, however, offers the external power of proof and this indicates an agency connection.
Testimonial Evidence can be defined as evidence which is given through word of mouth or written down testimony. This can either be a vow or pledge or a statement of declaration (Arthur, 2007). Testimonial evidence can be provided either in a trial stage or a discovery stage. Before the testimony of a witness is accepted, he or she should be of sound mind and competent enough to testify. It is also imperative for the witness to possess personal knowledge regarding the case.
This type of proof is accepted and used when a witness has the correct and precise knowledge of the events and happenings which are primary subject matter of the testimony.
There are situations where the character of the defendant, the accused, the accuser or the witness was taken into account (Paul et al., 1994). This is especially the case when the integrity and the credibility of that particular person are not in question. When a person is known to be a liar or sly, his evidence can only be taken lightly.
Documentary evidence comprises of all commemorated and memorialized writings, all written records (these may be informed of confessions, admissions, avowals, contracts, memos, bank cheque, and notes. However, documentary evidence has to be authenticated, and they should be original.
Hearsay evidence can be described as an out of court statement. The person who says the statement is known as a declarant, but he is usually not present for cross-examination or questioning (Paul et al., 1994). In addition to the fact that hearsay evidence cannot be tested or evaluated through the use of cross-examination, it cannot be used as absolute proof.
Weight of Evidence
The importance that is attached to evidence in a particular case is dependent on whether it’s a criminal case or a civil case and the argument brought forward. It can, therefore, be said that only precise and accurate evidence is entitled to weight (Arthur, 2007). There is another way in which weight of evidence can be viewed, and this is establishing if the evidence provided is direct or circumstantial.
Burdens of Proof
The burden of proof can be described as showing beyond any doubts the case in chief. The weight of proof lies on the prosecutor, and he or she is responsible for collecting and gathering all evidence in support of his or her case (this is in criminal cases). With regards to civil cases, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff to prove his case. In comparison to presumptions, burdens of proof are evidentiary obligations, and even before a prosecutor can be granted conviction, the evidence that he has submitted for the case must be sufficient enough (Paul et al., 1994). The justice and court system ask if the evidence presented sufficient to establish a case, if a mistrial can be created, to pronounce someone insanely and rule incompetency (Arthur, 2007). There are several categorizations of burdens of proof in both civil cases and criminal cases. They are; beyond reasonable doubt, clear and convincing evidence and preponderance of evidence. Criminal cases punishable by imprisonment for several years or capital punishment (death) demand that the burden is beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, noncriminal cases which mostly involve private property rights use clear and convincing evidence or preponderance of evidence.
As has been explained before, there are several types of evidence, for example, personal evidence which is testimony from an individual who witnessed the happening; physical evidence which refers to a solid substance at the scene of the crime which can directly link the perpetrator to the crime and corpus delicti evidence among others. The role of evidence is providing proof which can be used in the trial process.
An Introduction to Criminal Evidence: Cases and Concepts (Oxford University Press 2008), by
Alan Thompson, Lisa S. Nored, John L. Worrall, and Craig Hemmens.
Criminal Evidence for Police, 4th ed. (Prentice Hall 1994) by Paul B. Weston, Kenneth M. Wells,
and Marlene Hertoghe
Evidence Examples & Explanations, 6th Ed (Aspen Publishers 2007), by Arthur Best
Practical Criminal Evidence (Prentice Hall 2006), by Gregory D. Lee