What is Exculpatory Evidence?

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  • Written By: R. Anacan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2020
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Exculpatory evidence is a term used to describe evidence that shows that an individual accused of a crime is not guilty of the crime that he is charged with. Put another way, exculpatory evidence is evidence that is considered favorable to the accused person, or the defendant. This is in distinction to inculpatory evidence, which is evidence shows or proves the guilt of a defendant.

When a crime is committed, it is the responsibility of law enforcement and judicial officers to determine the fundamental facts of the case. This may include determining what crime was committed, when the event occurred, who may have committed the crime, who was victimized and if there are any possible motives for the crime. Once evidence has been gathered and a conclusion has been reached as to the facts of the case, the government decides whether to accuse an individual of committing the crime.

In many legal systems around the world, the defendant has the right to a court trial. During a court trial, both the prosecution and the defense present their sides of the case to a judge or jury. Once both sides have finished presenting their case, the judge or jury makes a determination as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.


The prosecution will present evidence meant to bolster the government’s belief in the guilt of the defendant. For example, the prosecutor may introduce and question witnesses who observed the defendant committing the crime. Once a prosecutor presents inculpatory evidence attesting to the guilt of the defendant, the defendant has the opportunity to rebut and challenge the accuracy of the prosecution’s evidence.

The defendant may present witnesses that offer a different version of events than the prosecution’s witnesses. The defense may provide witnesses who claim the accused was not in the area where and when the crime was committed. The testimony of these witnesses would be designed to cast doubt on the version of events provided by the prosecution and therefore prove the innocence of the defendant.

In many legal jurisdictions, the prosecutor is required to disclose any exculpatory evidence discovered during the discovery process to the defense. Failure of the prosecutor to disclose exculpatory evidence can result in consequences such as a mistrial, dismissal of the case, re-trial of the case, and an appeal of the verdict reached in the trial. It can also lead to disciplinary actions against the individuals found to have withheld exculpatory evidence.


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Post 3

@BrickBack - I know what you mean. Some people think that exculpatory evidence developed in the OJ Simpson trial when they had OJ try on the black leather glove and it did not fit him.

The late Johnny Cochran said his famous line, “If it don’t fit you must acquit.” Although this was a huge mistake by the prosecution because they wanted him to try on the glove, many in the jury viewed this as exculpatory evidence because if this was the glove used in the murders and it did not fit him then he could not have possibly committed the murders.

Unfortunately the jury tuned out the explanation as to why the glove did not fit which was due to the fact that the leather contracts especially when it is moistened.

I think that this is the reason that OJ was found not guilty because the jury did not feel that he committed these crimes.

Post 2

@Oasis11 - What a shame. At least this man was freed. There have been numerous studies on how erroneous eyewitness testimony can be. I am surprised that this aspect was not challenged. I think that the very definition of a lawyer is to defend his or her client to the best of your ability.

With such a discrepancy with what the suspect really looked liked and what this man that was wrongly accused looked like, it appears that the lawyer did not do his job and just moved on to the next case. This lawyer should have challenged the courtroom evidence more because the description of the two men was not even close.

Post 1

I wonder what happens in a case where there is exculpatory evidence but it was not introduced in the case. I say this because I was watching a television documentary the other day about a man that was accused of armed robbery.

He had a criminal history and was also pulled out of a line up according to the victim. The problem with this case was that the prosecutors were relying so heavily on the eyewitness testimony of the victim that no one introduced exculpatory evidence that this man was innocent.

I think that the circumstantial evidence was high, but it took a private investigator and an appeals lawyer to get this man out of prison. The fact

was that this man was 6’1” tall and the actual perpetrator was only 5’7”. I don’t understand how someone can make a mistake like this?

Why wasn’t the testimony of the victim challenged? I think that courtroom evidence in this case was not pursued because they the public defender probably gave up on his client and the trial evidence appeared to go against the suspect.

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