Property crimes seem to have just the right blend of circumstantial evidence and direct evidence that calls into question almost everything that happened. Convictions should not be built on a weak foundation in which nobody can tell what happened. To secure a criminal conviction, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. The prosecution must meet the highest burden of “proof” in the entire justice system: beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet, even when the evidence shows that virtually everything that happened is at best questionable, charges are often times still filed.
Direct vs. Circumstantial Evidence
Direct evidence is testimony of a witness who says they saw, heard, or otherwise sensed an event that happened. Circumstantial evidence allows a jury to infer a fact from another fact. You will often hear it in the news or in a movie or on a television show that the case is circumstantial, implying that the case is weak. In reality, it is the other kind of evidence that can be the weakest: a witness’s version of events. The testimony of a witness’s version of events is direct evidence. As you instinctually know, just because somebody says something happened the way they say it happened doesn’t make it so. Their testimony, the direct evidence, must be measured against circumstantial evidence. That is, of course, if there is any circumstantial evidence to rely on.
Circumstantial evidence often takes the form of forensics: a fingerprint, DNA, ballistics, etc…. If a fingerprint technician examines fingerprints from a person and from an object, and in turn gets a match, the jury may infer that the person touched that object at some point. The jury can infer a fact from a fact. The circumstantial evidence is usually stronger than the direct evidence. But, circumstantial evidence cannot be taken as gospel either. There is always room to call into question its reliability. Can the circumstantial evidence truly be relied upon?
It takes a great deal of knowledge and experience to know how to examine, analyze, and scrutinize the many types of forensic evidence. What method of testing was used? Was the scientifically accepted method of testing utilized? Is the scientific method itself reliable? Who did the testing? Was there human error? Was the machine used to conduct the test in proper working order? Even if the circumstantial evidence is reliable, it still needs to be put into its proper context. Context matters. For example, when did the person touch the object? Just because forensics shows that a person touched an object, that does not mean that they committed a crime. Did they touch it before, during, or after the commission of a crime? What does the evidence show? You need the right attorney to know how to challenge the state’s case and give you the best chance at a desirable outcome. Various types of property crimes include the following: