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Circumstantial Evidence: Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Circumstantial…
  • 0:23 Types & Examples
  • 2:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Earl Crowe

Earl has over 20 years of lecturing experience and has a master's degree in criminal justice.

For years, civil and criminal cases have been won or lost based on circumstantial evidence. Learn more about the definition of this term and common types of circumstantial evidence, looking at specific examples.

What is Circumstantial Evidence?

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that is presented in a civil or criminal trial that suggests a fact is true but may not prove it directly. The prosecutor and the defense team can both present circumstantial evidence during a trial. Many criminal trials lack any direct evidence, so circumstantial evidence alone may be used to convict or exonerate an individual.

Types and Examples

Gloves found during the O.J. Simpson murder investigation
O.J. Simpson glove evidence

The image to the right is one type of circumstantial evidence known as physical evidence. One glove was found at the murder scene of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and the other glove was found on the property of O.J. Simpson. The prosecution tried to use the gloves in court as evidence with the hope that the jury would conclude that, because one glove was found at the murder scene and the other glove was found on O.J. Simpson's property, then the only possible explanation was that O.J. Simpson was the murderer. The gloves are considered circumstantial evidence because no one witnessed the killings, and therefore there was no direct testimony that the killer used the gloves that were entered in as evidence.

Another type of circumstantial evidence is human behavior. You may remember the Laci Peterson murder case where her husband, Scott Peterson, was convicted in 2004 of murdering Laci and their unborn son. Part of the prosecution's circumstantial evidence was Scott Peterson's own behavior at a candlelight vigil for his wife during the period that Laci was missing.

Scott Peterson at a vigil for his missing wife and unborn son
Vigil for Laci Peterson

In the image on the left, you can see Scott Peterson smiling, which the prosecution presented as circumstantial evidence in order to get the jury to conclude that an innocent husband would not have acted in that manner during his wife's vigil.

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