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Circumstantial evidence is evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact—such as a fingerprint at the scene of a crime. By contrast, direct evidence supports the truth of an assertion directly—i.e., without need for any additional evidence or inference.
On its own, circumstantial evidence allows for more than one explanation. Different pieces of circumstantial evidence may be required, so that each corroborates the conclusions drawn from the others. Together, they may more strongly support one particular inference over another. An explanation involving circumstantial evidence becomes more likely once alternative explanations have been ruled out.
Circumstantial evidence allows a trier of fact to infer that a fact exists.  In criminal law, the inference is made by the trier of fact to support the truth of an assertion (of guilt or absence of guilt).
Reasonable doubt is tied into circumstantial evidence as that evidence relies on inference. It was put in place because the circumstantial evidence may not be enough to convict someone fairly. Reasonable doubt is described as the highest standard of proof used in court and means that a juror can find the defendant guilty of the crime to a moral certainty. Even when circumstantial evidence is not sufficient to convict or acquit, it can contribute to other decisions made about the case. 
Testimony can be direct evidence or it can be circumstantial. For example, a witness saying that she saw a defendant stab a victim is providing direct evidence. By contrast, a witness saying that she saw a defendant enter a house, heard screaming, and saw the defendant leave with a bloody knife is circumstantial evidence. It is the need for inference, and not the obviousness of the fact inferred, that determines whether evidence is circumstantial.
Forensic evidence supplied by an expert witness is usually treated as circumstantial evidence. For example, a forensic scientist or forensic engineer may provide results of tests indicating that bullets were fired from a defendant's gun, or that a car was traveling over the speed limit, but not necessarily that the defendant fired the gun or was driving the car.
Circumstantial evidence is especially important when there is little or no direct evidence.
Circumstantial evidence is used in civil courts to establish or refute liability. It is usually the most common form of evidence, for example in product liability cases and road traffic accidents. Forensic analysis of skid marks can frequently allow a reconstruction of the accident. By measuring the length of such marks and using dynamic analysis[ clarification needed ] of the car and road conditions at the time of the accident, it may be found that a driver underestimated his or her speed.
Circumstantial evidence is also prevalent in attempts to recover damages from alleged tortfeasors.
Circumstantial evidence is used in criminal courts to establish guilt or innocence through reasoning.
With obvious exceptions (immature, incompetent, or mentally ill individuals), most criminals try to avoid generating direct evidence. Hence, the prosecution usually must resort to circumstantial evidence to prove the existence of mens rea , or intent.
One example of circumstantial evidence is the behavior of a person around the time of an alleged offense. In the case of someone charged with theft of money, were the suspect seen in a shopping spree purchasing expensive items shortly after the time of the alleged theft, the spree might prove to be circumstantial evidence of the individual's guilt.
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Other examples of circumstantial evidence are fingerprint analysis, blood analysis or DNA analysis of the evidence found at the scene of a crime. These types of evidence may strongly point to a certain conclusion when taken into consideration with other facts—but if not directly witnessed by someone when the crime was committed, they are still considered circumstantial. However, when proved by expert witnesses, they are usually sufficient to decide a case, especially in the absence of any direct evidence. Owing to subsequent developments in forensic methods, old undecided cases (or cold cases) are frequently resolved.
A popular misconception is that circumstantial evidence is less valid or less important than direct evidence,   which is popularly assumed to be the most powerful, but this is not the case.  Many successful criminal prosecutions rely largely or entirely on circumstantial evidence, and civil charges are frequently based on circumstantial or indirect evidence. Indeed, the common metaphor for the strongest possible evidence in any case—the "smoking gun"—is an example of proof based on circumstantial evidence.  Similarly, fingerprint evidence, videotapes, sound recordings, photographs, and many other examples of physical evidence that support the drawing of an inference, i.e., circumstantial evidence, are considered very strong possible evidence.
In practice, circumstantial evidence can have an advantage over direct evidence in that it can come from multiple sources that check and reinforce each other.  Eyewitness testimony can be inaccurate at times,  and many persons have been convicted on the basis of perjured or otherwise mistaken testimony.  Thus, strong circumstantial evidence can provide a more reliable basis for a verdict. Circumstantial evidence normally requires a witness, such as the police officer who found the evidence, or an expert who examined it, to lay the foundation for its admission. This witness, sometimes known as the sponsor or the authenticating witness, is giving direct (eyewitness) testimony, and could present credibility problems in the same way that any eyewitness does.
Eyewitness testimony is frequently unreliable, or subject to conflict or outright fabrication. For example, the RMS Titanic sank in the presence of approximately 700 witnesses. For many years, there was vigorous debate on whether the ship broke into two before sinking.  It was not until the ship was found, in September 1985, that the truth was known.
However, there is often more than one logical conclusion naturally inferred from the same set of circumstances. In cases where one conclusion implies a defendant's guilt and another his innocence, the "benefit of the doubt" principle would apply. Indeed, if the circumstantial evidence suggests a possibility of innocence, the prosecution has the burden of disproving that possibility. 
Much of the evidence against convicted American terrorist Timothy McVeigh was circumstantial. Speaking about McVeigh's trial, Robert Precht said, "the prosecution's use of indirect evidence is no cause for worry". McVeigh was sentenced to death and subsequently executed by the US federal government, while his accomplice was sentenced to serve consecutive federal life sentences.  The 2004 murder trial of Scott Peterson was another high-profile conviction based heavily on circumstantial evidence, leading to Peterson's being sentenced to death (he was subsequently spared the gallows and currently awaits re-sentencing). Another case that relied on circumstantial evidence was that of Nelson Serrano, who received four death sentences for four first-degree murders. The 2015 murder trial of Ivan Chan Man-sum from Hong Kong was a conviction based solely on circumstantial evidence  without finding the body of his murdered girlfriend. Chan was consequently sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment. 
In Singapore, law student Sunny Ang was sentenced to death in 1965 solely based on circumstantial evidence when he was convicted of murdering his girlfriend during a scuba diving trip near Sisters' Islands on 27 August 1963. The victim, Jenny Cheok, was murdered for her insurance money, which amounted to $450,000. Her body has never been found. The additional absence of Cheok's body made Ang's conviction one of the landmark verdicts in Singapore, where it involved a murder conviction without a body.   
A famous aphorism on the probity of circumstantial evidence was penned by Henry David Thoreau: "Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk." 
An Alford plea, in United States law, is a guilty plea in criminal court, whereby a defendant in a criminal case does not admit to the criminal act and asserts innocence. In entering an Alford plea, the defendant admits that the evidence presented by the prosecution would be likely to persuade a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecutor's fallacy is a fallacy of statistical reasoning involving a test for an occurrence, such as a DNA match. A positive result in the test may paradoxically be more likely to be an erroneous result than an actual occurrence, even if the test is very accurate. The fallacy is named because it is typically used by a prosecutor to exaggerate the probability of a criminal defendant's guilt. The fallacy can be used to support other claims as well – including the innocence of a defendant.
In law, a witness is someone who has knowledge about a matter, whether they have sensed it or are testifying on another witnesses' behalf. In law a witness is someone who, either voluntarily or under compulsion, provides testimonial evidence, either oral or written, of what he or she knows or claims to know.
Burden of proof is a legal duty that encompasses two connected but separate ideas that apply for establishing the truth of facts in a trial before tribunals in the United States: the "burden of production" and the "burden of persuasion." In a legal dispute, one party is initially presumed to be correct, while the other side bears the burden of producing evidence persuasive enough to establish the truth of facts needed to satisfy all the required legal elements of legal dispute. There are varying types of burden of persuasion commonly referred to as standards of proof, and depending on the type of case, the standard of proof will be higher or lower. Burdens of persuasion and production may be of different standards for each party, in different phases of litigation. The burden of production is a minimal burden to produce at least enough evidence for the trier of fact to consider a disputed claim. After litigants have met the burden of production, they have the burden of persuasion: that enough evidence has been presented to persuade the trier of fact that their side is correct. There are different standards of persuasiveness ranging from a preponderance of the evidence, where there is just enough evidence to tip the balance, to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, as in United States criminal courts.
Corpus delicti is a term from Western jurisprudence referring to the principle that a crime must be proved to have occurred before a person can be convicted of committing that crime.
The presumption of innocence is a legal principle that every person accused of any crime is considered innocent until proven guilty. Under the presumption of innocence, the legal burden of proof is thus on the prosecution, which must present compelling evidence to the trier of fact. If the prosecution does not prove the charges true, then the person is acquitted of the charges. The prosecution must in most cases prove that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If reasonable doubt remains, the accused must be acquitted. The opposite system is a presumption of guilt.
Innocence Project, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit legal organization that is committed to exonerating individuals who have been wrongly convicted, through the use of DNA testing and working to reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. The group cites various studies estimating that in the United States between 1% and 10% of all prisoners are innocent. The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld who gained national attention in the mid-1990s as part of the "Dream Team" of lawyers who formed part of the defense in the O. J. Simpson murder case.
A miscarriage of justice occurs when a grossly unfair outcome results from a civil or a criminal judicial proceeding. For example, it occurs when a person is convicted and punished for a crime that he or she did not actually commit. It can occur in both criminal and civil proceedings, which includes deportation proceedings. The main contributing factors are eyewitness misidentification, faulty forensic analysis, false confessions by vulnerable suspects, perjury and lies told by witnesses, misconduct by police, prosecutors or judges and inadequate defence strategies put forward by the defendant's legal team.
Mistaken identity is a defense in criminal law which claims the actual innocence of the criminal defendant, and attempts to undermine evidence of guilt by asserting that any eyewitness to the crime incorrectly thought that they saw the defendant, when in fact the person seen by the witness was someone else. The defendant may question both the memory of the witness, and the perception of the witness.
Three basic features of Japan's system of criminal justice characterize its operations. First, the institutions—police, government prosecutors' offices, courts, and correctional organs—maintain close and cooperative relations with each other, consulting frequently on how best to accomplish the shared goals of limiting and controlling crime. Second, citizens are encouraged to assist in maintaining public order, and they participate extensively in crime prevention campaigns, apprehension of suspects, and offender rehabilitation programs. Finally, officials who administer criminal justice are allowed considerable discretion in dealing with offenders.
Actual innocence is a special standard of review in legal cases to prove that a charged defendant did not commit the crimes that they were accused of, which is often applied by appellate courts to prevent a miscarriage of justice. The actual innocence standard may be invoked at any time and not only in criminal proceedings but also in immigration and other civil proceedings.
Holmes v. South Carolina, 547 U.S. 319 (2006), was a decision by the United States Supreme Court involving the right of a criminal defendant to present evidence that a third party instead committed the crime. The Court vacated the rape and murder conviction in South Carolina of a man who had been denied the opportunity to present evidence of a third party's guilt, because the trial court believed the prosecutor's forensic evidence was too strong for the defendant's evidence to raise an inference of innocence. The Court ruled unanimously that this exclusion violated the right of a defendant to have a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense, because the strength of a prosecutor's case had no logical relationship to whether a defendant's evidence was too weak to be admissible.
Direct evidence supports the truth of an assertion directly, i.e., without an intervening inference. Circumstantial evidence, by contrast, consists of a fact or set of facts which, if proven, will support the creation of an inference that the matter asserted is true.
Shareef Cousin is an African-American man from New Orleans who was convicted of the first-degree murder of Michael Gerardi in 1996 and sentenced to death as a juvenile in Louisiana. At age 17, he became the youngest condemned convict to be put on death row in Louisiana, and one of the youngest in the United States.
Conviction for murder in the absence of a body is possible. However, cases of this type have historically been hard to prove, often forcing the prosecution to rely on circumstantial evidence, and in England there was for centuries a mistaken view that in the absence of a body a killer could not be tried for murder. Developments in forensic science in recent decades have made it more likely that a murder conviction can be obtained even if a body has not been found.
The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: "[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb..." The four essential protections included are prohibitions against, for the same offense:
The importance of corroboration is unique to Scots criminal law. A long-standing feature of Scots law, the requirement for corroborating evidence means at least two independent sources of evidence are required in support of each crucial fact before an accused can be convicted of a crime. This means, for example, that an admission of guilt by the accused is insufficient evidence to convict in Scotland, because that evidence needs to be corroborated by another source. Testimony from some experts, such as forensic medical examiners or doctors, is accepted by courts on the basis of the expert's report alone, therefore requiring no corroboration.
Investigating Innocence is a nonprofit wrongful conviction advocacy organization that provides criminal defense investigations for inmates in the United States. Investigating Innocence was founded in 2013 by private investigator Bill Clutter to assist nationwide Innocence Project groups in investigating innocence claims. "Once we have a case that meets our criteria, we'll put private investigators to work on it. A lot of these cases need investigators," said Kelly Thompson, executive director of Investigating Innocence. Prior to his work on Investigating Innocence, Clutter was one of the founders of the Illinois Innocence Project. Investigating Innocence also has a board composed of exonerees that reviews incoming cases.
Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the knowing use of false testimony by a prosecutor in a criminal case violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, even if the testimony affects only the credibility of the witness and does not directly relate to the innocence or guilt of the defendant.
Robert Lee Stinson is an innocent Wisconsin man that was charged with the rape and murder of 63-year-old woman, Ione Cychosz. Cychosz’ body was discovered in a vacant lot close to Stinson's backyard. Bite marks, that were left on the body, were analyzed by Dr. Lowell T. Johnson, a forensic dentist, who advised that the bites were left by someone missing their front tooth. Due to Richard Lee Stinson's proximity and Dr. Johnson's testimony, that was later analyzed by Dr. Raymond Rawson, he was sentenced to life in prison.