15 Types of Evidence and the Elements to Look For

There are two things to consider when contemplating the admissibility of different types of evidence, relevance and materiality. Evidence must be relevant and material to the issue(s) at hand or it could be deemed inadmissible. That said, while not admissible in court, there are still many types of evidence that can be valuable in an investigation. For instance, some evidence that is not admissible on its own may be admissible in tandem with other forms of evidence.

The law of evidence governs what can be presented in a court of law.  It applies to the use of oral or written statements, such as an affidavit, exhibits, or any other documentary material which is admissible in a judicial or administrative proceeding. Therefore, an investigators ability to gather, analyze, and track evidence is a critical competency. Even though evidence may not be direct proof of an event or claim, the direction of any case can change directions just based on the types of evidence identified.

Types of Evidence You May Run Across

1. Physical Evidence

Real evidence, physical evidence, or material evidence is any tangible object that plays some part in the issue that gave rise to the lawsuit, introduced in a trial, intended to prove a fact in issue based on the object’s evident physical features.

2. Exculpatory Evidence

Exculpatory evidence is evidence advantageous to the defendant in a criminal trial that absolves or tends to exonerate the defendant of guilt. It is the opposite of inculpatory evidence, which tends to prove guilt. Because of its extreme value to the defense, prosecutors and police are required to disclose to the defendant any and all exculpatory evidence when it becomes available.

3. Forensic Evidence

Forensic evidence refers to scientific evidence, such as DNA, trace evidence, fingerprints or ballistics reports, and can offer factual proof to determine a person’s guilt or innocence. Generally considered to be strong and reliable evidence, forensics role in exonerating the innocent has been well recognized. Due to cost and resources, forensic use in private matters is generally limited to serious cases that will most likely end up in court.

4. Direct Evidence

One of the most powerful types of evidence, direct evidence is a form of evidence such as eyewitness testimony. The evidence alone is the proof that something occurred or didn’t occur.

5. Analogical Evidence

There are times where the main issue is “cutting-edge” or generally under-researched.  Analogies come into play when you don’t have data to refer to or other sources on the matter to reference. Because there is a need for information to draw an analogy and you have to get your evidence from somewhere, analogical evidence, or comparative analysis, is the natural next step.

6. Anecdotal Evidence

Because it’s often dismissed as unreliable and worthless, anecdotal evidence is one of the more underutilized forms of evidence.  Anecdotal evidence is evidence that is based on a person’s observations. When used in conjunction with other types of evidence, it can actually be very useful for refuting generalizations because all you need is one example that challenges a claim.

7. Character Evidence

Character evidence describes any testimony or document presented for the determination of proving that a person acted in a certain way on a certain occasion based on the character or disposition of that person. Three factors classically control the permissibly of character evidence, the purpose the character evidence is being used for, the form in which the character evidence is offered, and the type of proceeding (civil or criminal) in which the character evidence is offered

8. Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence, also known as indirect evidence, requires an inference regarding something that is based on a series of facts detached from the fact the dispute is trying to prove. It requires a presumption of facts from other facts that can be proven. While not considered to be overwhelmingly strong evidence, it can be relevant in a private matter, with a lesser burden of proof than “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

9. Demonstrative Evidence

Evidence in the form of a representation of an object and is considered to be demonstrative evidence when it directly demonstrates a fact. This could be photographs, video and audio recordings, charts, etc.

10. Digital Evidence

In recent years, the use of digital evidence in trials has greatly increased. Digital evidence can be any sort of digital file from an electronic source. This can include files, documents, emails, text messages, instant messages, the contents of a hard drive, electronic financial transactions, audio files, and video files. Digital evidence can be found on any server or device that stores data, including some lesser-known sources. It is important to think outside the box and don’t discount some unorthodox means such as home video game consoles, GPS, sport watches and internet-enabled devices. Additionally, digital evidence is often found and cataloged through internet searches using open source intelligence (OSINT).

11. Documentary Evidence

Documentary evidence can be and usually is introduced in the form of documents, such as an invoice, a contract or a will. In recent years, the term can include any media by which information can be maintained.

12. Hearsay Evidence

Hearsay is an out of court statement, that is made in court, to demonstrate the truth of the matter proclaimed. In other words, hearsay is evidence of an utterance or statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing in question and that is presented to demonstrate the truth of the matter stated. Hearsay evidence is generally not admissible in court; however, it can be of interest and value in a private investigation where the burden of proof, if there is one, is less vigorous than in court.

13. Prima Facie Evidence

Latin for “at first sight”, prima facie may be used as an adjective meaning “sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted”. Typically presented before trial, this evidence is generally enough to prove something until it is disproved. Also referred to as “presumptive evidence”.

14. Statistical Evidence

Evidence that uses numbers (or statistical data) to back a position is called statistical evidence. This type of evidence is based on information gathering such as surveys or polls.

15. Testimonial Evidence

This is either oral or written statements given by a witness or authority under oath. It can be assembled in court, at a deposition or through a written affidavit.

Benefits of Knowing

Sometimes just keeping in mind what the various types of evidence are will help you identify them as evidence during an investigation. Remember, a small piece of evidence can change the course an ultimately the outcome of a well performed and maintained investigation.

Any tangible evidence must be cataloged and tracked until it’s proper disposal. Use the CROSStrax’s Chain of Custody Template to track the possession of evidence during your next investigation.

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