Direct evidence is often used in court terminology to describe evidence that straightforwardly supports the guilt or innocence of a person on trial. Unlike circumstantial evidence, which asks the judge or jury to infer reasonable conclusions, this form of evidence can stand on its own, and does not require any presumption. Video, tape recordings, and some types of witness testimony can be used as direct evidence to support a claim.
There are two major types of evidence that guide arguments in court. Circumstantial evidence requires inference to reach a desired conclusion. If the person on trial went out and bought a gun and bullets the day before the victim was shot, the prosecution will want the judge or jury to infer that the accused bought the gun to shoot the victim. Enough telling circumstantial evidence can convince people to believe that someone is innocent or guilty, but by itself cannot prove that an event took place.
True direct evidence, in contrast, leaves little or no possibility of a different conclusion. In American courts, juries and judges must believe that the accused person committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This type of evidence, such as a video showing a crime, can help remove any lingering doubts about what actually happened. Although there is no legal distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence, the latter is often seen as more objective.
There are several types of direct evidence. Direct physical evidence is often limited to things like photos or video tapes which show the crime taking place. Eye witness testimony can also be considered direct evidence, as can a witness testifying to personally seeing or hearing an event.
The court assumes everyone is truthful to their oath of honesty. The jury must determine for themselves the reliability of such a witness, based on several factors. If the witness is unrelated to the case, does not know the participants, has no criminal record and no stake in the outcome of the case, he or she is generally treated as more reliable than the accused person's mother or victim's best friend.
Most strong cases use a combination of circumstantial and direct evidence to make their point. Unless the entire incident was tape recorded from beginning to end, circumstantial evidence is often at least somewhat necessary. Direct evidence is often invaluable to a case, however, and can stand alone as proof. It is the "smoking gun" that people are always looking for; the objective fact that can prove or disprove a theory.