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What Is Indirect Evidence?

Leigia Rosales
Updated May 16, 2024
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In either a civil lawsuit or criminal prosecution, evidence is needed to meet the burden required to win the case. Evidence comes in many forms, including testamentary, documentary, physical, and demonstrative. Some evidence is considered direct, or primary, evidence, while other evidence is circumstantial, or indirect, evidence. Evidence that only creates an inference or that does not directly lead to a conclusion of fact is known as indirect evidence.

The required burden of proof will vary by jurisdiction. In the United States, the burden of proof in a criminal trial is "beyond a reasonable doubt," while the burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is "beyond a preponderance of the evidence" in almost all cases. A precise definition for both continues to elude even legal scholars; however, it is clear that the burden of proof in a criminal trial is significantly higher than that of a civil lawsuit. As a result, indirect evidence is more likely to be sufficient to support a determination of liability in a civil lawsuit than a verdict of guilty in a criminal trial.

In a criminal prosecution, indirect evidence may be considered more valuable when the totality of the indirect evidence leads to a conclusion. If, for example, a witness in a robbery trial can testify that she personally saw the defendant pull out a gun and rob a store owner, that would be direct evidence. If, on the other hand, she can only testify to seeing the defendant enter the store and leave the store at the time the store was allegedly robbed, that is only indirect evidence and unlikely to be enough to convict the defendant of the crime. If she can also testify that she heard screams from inside the store, saw the defendant leave with a gun in his hand, and entered the store herself shortly thereafter and was told it had just been robbed, then that is a collection of indirect evidence that, in totality, may be more likely to lead a jury to believe that the defendant committed the crime.

In a civil lawsuit, indirect evidence is used more frequently and often more successfully due to the lower burden of proof. In a car accident case, for example, the speed at which the driver of a car was driving may be determined by expert testimony based on a forensic analysis of skid marks, road conditions, and impact tests. Unless someone was at the scene with a radar gun pointed at the car to provide direct evidence of the speed, indirect evidence will be used and likely accepted.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Leigia Rosales
By Leigia Rosales , Former Writer
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers. Her ability to understand complex topics and communicate them effectively makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.

Discussion Comments

By bluedolphin — On Apr 15, 2014

Indirect evidence is interesting. Sometimes, it's almost as conclusive as direct evidence and sometimes it's not conclusive at all. It really depends on the specific circumstances.

I really like the example in the article about a woman who saw someone leave a store with a gun and was told that it was just robbed. Even though she never saw the person actually committing the crime, the things that she did see when combined, are almost as conclusive as indirect evidence.

I think we can infer from all this that it's extremely important for witnesses to testify with every detail they remember and as accurately as possible. It's usually the details that makes one piece of indirect evidence more reliable than another.

By stoneMason — On Apr 14, 2014

@odnasmrs-- Beyond preponderance of the evidence means that most of the evidence in a case points towards something and that a claim of one party is probably true. If this is true in a case, then of course, that case can be won with only indirect evidence.

In cases where there is no direct evidence such as an eye witness, a recording or a document, courts must rely on indirect evidence to make a decision. If most of the indirect evidence points towards something, then the court will consider that to be most probably true and vote in its favor. It may not sound very reasonable, but this is the most logical way to make ruling in a case when the evidence cannot prove a fact by itself.

By donasmrs — On Apr 14, 2014

What is "beyond a preponderance of the evidence?" Can civil cases be won with only indirect evidence?

Leigia Rosales

Leigia Rosales

Former Writer

Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she...
Learn more
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