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What Is Real Evidence?

Real evidence is often used in court hearings.
Real evidence is physical objects and photographs collected at the scene of the crime.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2014
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Real evidence is a type of evidence often used in court hearings or trials, which can be introduced in both criminal and civil cases. This type of evidence usually consists of objects that were physically present at the scene of a crime or civil violation and that have a direct connection or impact on the case itself. Such evidence is in contrast to testimonial evidence that typically consists of the testimony of someone who was involved in or a witness to events related to a case. Real evidence is a form of physical evidence, though it is different from demonstrative physical evidence that may be used in a hearing.

There are two basic categories of physical evidence that may be presented to a judge or jury: real evidence and demonstrative evidence. Real evidence consists of objects that are directly related to a case and were present and involved in the events being discussed during a hearing or trail. For example, in a murder trial, the prosecution may wish to present a weapon that was used to kill the victim, photographs of the crime scene, images of wounds on the victim, and a wristwatch that was left behind by the perpetrator of the crime.

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Assuming that each piece of evidence was admitted into the hearing, which often depends on the reliability and validity of the evidence, then some of these things would be real evidence. The murder weapon and the wristwatch would each be examples of real evidence. Both of these items were physically present at the scene and are being presented in the courtroom as objects to be considered as evidence. The photographs and any other evidence related to these objects would not be real evidence, however, and would likely fall into the category of demonstrative evidence.

Demonstrative evidence is a type of physical evidence that consists of images or representations of physical items present in the commission of a crime or civil violation. In the above example, the photographs of the crime scene and of the wounds on the victim’s body would both be demonstrative evidence since they are not the physical objects themselves. If skin cells from the defendant were found on the wristwatch, then that evidence would be presented by an expert who would explain how they were found and matched to the defendant. The watch itself would be real evidence, but the expert evidence presented would be testimonial, not physical.

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Discuss this Article

B707
Post 8

In civil trials, such as fraud or misuse of company funds, there would probably be some real evidence that would be shown as evidence in court.

For example, the judge and jury would be shown financial records, hear recordings of phone calls, emails, and perhaps travel records.

But in many of these civil trials, circumstantial evidence is commonly used. Witnesses to various aspects of the trial are questioned and lawyers attempt to persuade jury and judge of the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

BabaB
Post 7

@burcidi - I agree that in criminal trials, most physical evidence found at the crime scene or other locations, doesn't really have an impact on the judge or the jury.The object itself without an analysis doesn't prove much.

It is the lab reports done by experts that are usually presented in court. Demonstrative physical evidence in the form of photographs, financial records, or e-mails would likely be used to give the jury and judge some visual evidence of the crime.

burcidi
Post 6

I've never understood why real evidence is presented to the judge during a trial. As far as I know, as soon as evidence is picked up from a crime scene, it's sent to the labs. The lab results have all the information the judge would need about the evidence.

I don't really see how seeing the real evidence helps the judge or jury make a decision during the trial.

discographer
Post 5

I just watched a program about this on TV. It was about crime scene investigation and the difficulties police and investigators face while trying to solve a case.

Apparently, real evidence is the most important factor that helps solve a crime. The reason is partly because of technology. Investigators are able to find out so many facts by doing analysis on the crime scene evidence- getting fingerprints, DNA and other clues about what happened.

Testimonies on the other hand, are not that dependable because people lie all the time. Even if they are not lying, if there are different interpretations of events, a case could get really confusing. The TV show summed up the program by saying that police should concentrate more on real evidence than testimonies in complicated cases. It has been shown that more cases are solved this way.

surfNturf
Post 4

@Sunshine31 - I was watching a documentary the other day about a man that was convicted of armed robbery and had to serve ten years in prison. The problem with this case is that the man was convicted based on circumstantial evidence only.

In fact the victim gave erroneous eyewitness testimony stating that the defendant was the one that committed the crime. Also, the defendant had a prior criminal record which was introduced in the case and also caused the jury to develop a bias toward the defendant.

Years later, the defendant’s wife hired a private investigator that found direct evidence that would eventually get the man released from prison. The private investigator found out that the actual perpetrator was 5’7” tall and the defendant was 6’1” tall.

She was also able to find DNA evidence that was never introduced in the criminal case. Sometimes juries are really swayed by circumstantial evidence even if there is a lack of direct evidence available.

sunshine31
Post 3

@Lonelygod- I know what you mean because a lot of real life cases involve circumstantial evidence which is a little different than direct evidence. Sometimes there are murder cases in which there isn’t even a body.

I think that it makes it harder to get a conviction in cases like this because all the defense has to create is reasonable doubt in order to get an acquittal. If you don’t have a body in a murder case the prosecution has to have strong circumstantial evidence because not only would they have to prove that a murder took place, but they also have to prove that the defendant committed the murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

This can be a tall order sometimes. On television all of the cases are perfect, but in real life I am sure the cases are much more complicated.

drtroubles
Post 2

@lonelygod - I doubt that police ever get that lucky. Though I do wonder how much effort is put into finding real evidence that is not in the immediate vicinity?

Whenever I see crime shows they are often digging through trash for blocks, I doubt real police have the manpower or resources for that kind of a search.

Does anyone know if police go to extraordinary measures to find real evidence?

lonelygod
Post 1

If you ever watch crime dramas you will always see them talking about looking for real evidence to present to the district attorney so that the police can put the newest scumbag behind bars. It seems the most popular piece of real evidence is the weapon used to kill some poor unsuspecting victim.

I remember one show I watched where the entire case relied on the murder weapon being found and there was a massive hunt to find the knife that had been tossed. They ended up finding the knife in a dumpster a few blocks from the crime scene, which luckily still had fingerprints on it. I wonder if the police ever get that lucky with real evidence off of TV.

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