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What is False Evidence?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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False evidence is evidence presented in a legal case that cannot legally be relied upon for any number of reasons, ranging from genuine forgery of evidence to illegal means of procurement that bar the evidence from court even if it is factually valid. This can include spoken testimony, as well as physical evidence. The standards of evidence are designed to exclude false evidence but there have been a number of noted cases involving questionable evidence that led to convictions or acquittals in legal cases.

Inadmissible evidence includes evidence acquired illegally, such as evidence taken during an illegal stop and search, along with evidence that was not properly documented when it was collected. If there are doubts about the chain of custody for evidence, it must also be excluded on the grounds that it could have been falsified or forged. Once evidence is collected, it must be in the control of law enforcement at all times, whether it is in the physical custody of an officer or in a secured lockup area where evidence can be stored. If evidence is left out without adequate supervision at any point, it is compromised, and cannot be used in court.

Some cases of false evidence have involved particularly egregious examples of falsification, forgery, or tainting where law enforcement or prosecutors were directly involved in the cover-up of information about evidence that would have led to its exclusion. Sometimes evidence is excluded on false grounds, and this can cause equal harm to a case. Exonerating or potentially convicting evidence that is kept out of court can have a profound impact on the outcome of the trial.

Both sides in a case have the right to examine physical evidence presented in the courtroom. This examination gives people an opportunity to challenge evidence if they have questions or concerns or suspect that it is false evidence. An inspection may reveal signs of forgery or tampering that could be used to argue that the evidence should be excluded. For instance, if something found at the crime scene was switched out while it was in the custody of law enforcement and the defense can demonstrate that the evidence presented in court is not the real item, that object could be excluded from the trial.

When people testify on the witness stand, they swear to tell the truth. Giving false evidence can expose people to the risk of perjury charges. Falsifications can include outright lies, as will as omissions of information. It is important to answer questions thoroughly, accurately, and completely, and statements such as “I don't know” are appropriate if a witness generally does not know the answer. Witnesses can also ask to have questions repeated or clarified to make sure they understand what is being asked. Witnesses can be cross examined by opposing counsel under the same rules that allow opposing counsel to inspect physical evidence.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By stoneMason — On Apr 15, 2014

@literally45-- There are definitely loopholes in the legal system.

For example, when the plaintiff wants to call a witness, he has to inform the court as well as the defendant beforehand. This gives the defendant enough time to contact the witness, convince them or even threaten them about their court testament. Sometimes witnesses back off from testifying or lie under oath because of this pressure.

By ysmina — On Apr 14, 2014

@literally45-- I can't think of a specific case where there was false evidence. However, before DNA testing was available, there were many US court cases that were decided based on dubious evidence. In fact, there are quite a few people executed based on wrong evidence who are now thought to be innocent.

In some cases, it was simply because there was not enough technology to match the DNA from a piece of evidence to the accused. Other time, the evidence was tampered, hidden or collected incorrectly causing the wrong person to be charged and punished.

I think it has become much more difficult to falsify evidence since the 2000s. DNA testing and other advanced forensic testing methods have really improved legal proceedings and the decisions reached.

By literally45 — On Apr 14, 2014

Are there loopholes in the legal system that makes it easier for parties to a case to tamper with the evidence?

Can anyone give an example about a well known case where false evidence was found?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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