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What is Physical Evidence?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 16, 2024
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The evidence that is presented during a trial usually plays a major role in the outcome. There are several types of evidence that can be used. One type, physical evidence, refers to items that can be brought into a courtroom for observation. Examples of this type of evidence include a bloody shirt, the mold of a foot print, and a bullet casing.

In many instances, law officials are the first to discover and handle physical evidence. This is because such items are often obtained from crime scenes, meaning that suspects have not been named, and therefore no lawyers are involved at that point. The manner in which this type of evidence is collected and maintained is important because such items can be crucial in winning a case. If it is not obtained according to procedure or it is damaged, it may be deemed inadmissible or useless.

Law enforcement officers are not the only ones who can jeopardize the use of physical evidence. In most instances, there are procedures a lawyer must follow if she wishes to lawfully obtain such items. There are also procedures she must follow if she expects the court to allow her to admit such evidence for consideration during her arguments.

In some instances, physical evidence is not handled by law enforcement. A surveillance video and a document from the plaintiff or defendant can both serve as physical evidence. It is also important to note that this type of evidence is not limited to criminal proceedings. Such evidence could also be presented in domestic or civil trials.

Physical evidence often supersedes other types of evidence because it is commonly less problematic. For example, testimonial evidence refers to things people say regarding some aspect of a court case. This type of evidence can be riddled with problems such as false statements, faulty memory, or hidden agendas.

The reliability of such evidence can, however, have drastically differing effects. In some instances, such items can be used to confirm what someone has asserted. In other instances, they can disprove or cast doubt upon the things that have been said or alleged. For example, a fingerprint lifted from the crime scene can prove that an individual has indeed visited a place that he has claimed he never visited. Likewise, a photo of the individual at a certain event can prove that at the time of a crime he was not at the crime scene.

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.
Discussion Comments
By gregg1956 — On Sep 24, 2010

This is just a side note, but there is also physical evidence in marketing. In marketing, physical evidence refers to packaging, brochures, your uniforms, etc. Just FYI.

By zenmaster — On Sep 24, 2010

Is it possible to win a trial with no physical evidence? For example, what if there are no forensics at the crime scene? Could the case still go forward, or would it just be dropped?

By CopperPipe — On Sep 24, 2010

I'm so glad that you mentioned the importance of appropriate evidence collection, especially when it comes to collecting forensic physical evidence.

When you watch shows like CSI, evidence is just passed around willy-nilly, unless of course it doesn't fit the story line.

However, real physical evidence collection is quite different, as anyone with a forensics job can tell you.

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