Define: Circumstantial Evidence

Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Circumstantial Evidence

Quick Summary of Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence or indirect evidence is not based on actual personal knowledge or observation of the facts, but is evidence which is used to draw inferences. It is possible to obtain a conviction with the use of circumstantial evidence if it is backed up by corroborating evidence and other factual information.

For example, a criminal trial may include information from a witness who arrived at a murder scene to see another person holding a bloody knife. Although the person holding the knife could have committed the murder they also could have arrived on the scene after the crime had occurred and simply picked up the knife. It could have been after they picked up the knife that the witness arrived at the scene. The witness may at that time assume the defendant committed the murder, but they did not actually witness the event. Corroborating evidence may be needed from another source such as an eye witness to the crime to prove the person holding the knife actually killed the victim.


Full Definition of Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence is used in civil and criminal cases where direct evidence is not present in the case. Circumstantial evidence is defined as indirect evidence and requires that other supporting evidence be present for circumstantial evidence to be accepted in a court of law during a criminal case.

Circumstantial evidence falls under Title 18 of the United States Code of criminal procedure and is the criminal and penal code set forth by the Federal Government. The code deals with federal crimes and criminal procedure. There can be some situations where the evidence presented in these types of cases that may prove guilt on the part of the defendant but this indirect evidence does not provide enough information to support a guilty verdict. In criminal cases, circumstantial evidence is used to prove guilt or innocence with reasoning.

Other Types of Evidence

In a criminal court case, there are various factors that must be provided in the case for the defendant to be found guilty. Other types of evidence used in criminal court cases include the following:

Why Circumstantial Evidence is Difficult to Prove

Circumstantial evidence is difficult to prove in a criminal case because it is indirect evidence. It is easier to prove direct evidence in a case because this type of evidence is more powerful in front of a jury. Direct evidence includes eyewitness accounts, where witnesses testify in court that they saw the defendant commit the crime. Circumstantial evidence includes one or more of the following:

  • making threats
  • finding fingerprints at the scene of a crime
  • the accused in the case was seen in the vicinity of the crime when the crime was committed
  • blood analysis
  • DNA analysis

On the other side of things, circumstantial evidence is extremely strong in a criminal court case because it is hard to suppress or fabricate. In some court cases, eyewitness testimony can be inaccurate at times because it is difficult for some people to recall what occurred at the scene of a crime months later.

Other types of circumstantial evidence used in criminal cases include videotapes, sound recordings, and photographs. To lay the foundation for circumstantial evidence there must be a witness present, such as the police officer who found the evidence at the scene of the crime. That witness will provide direct testimony, but that testimony could create credibility problems, much like an eye witness does in a criminal case.


Cite Term

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Modern Language Association (MLA):
Circumstantial Evidence. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. April 05, 2020
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Circumstantial Evidence. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: April 05, 2020).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Circumstantial Evidence. Retrieved April 05, 2020, from website:

Definition Sources

Definitions for Circumstantial Evidence are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 1st April, 2020