What is Substantial Evidence?

Daphne Mallory

Substantial evidence may be the legal requirement that must be met in order for a jury to reach a verdict in a case. The evidence must substantially prove the legal elements of the case and must be credible enough that a reasonable mind would accept it as enough to reach a conclusion. Even if a judge or jury were able to arrive at two conflicting conclusions, a verdict can be reached if either of the conclusions could be accepted by reasonable persons. Evidence that is based on conjecture is not often considered substantial evidence. A verdict that is based on speculation and not reason often will not stand.

An appellate judge can overturn a verdict if it's shown that the evidence was not substantial.
An appellate judge can overturn a verdict if it's shown that the evidence was not substantial.

An appellate judge can overturn or remand a verdict from a judge and jury if it is shown that the evidence presented was not substantial. The verdicts that don’t stand when reviewed by a higher court are often the ones that are so unreasonable and based on hypothetical information that a reasonable mind could not have reached the conclusion reached by the judge or jury. The legal elements required to prove such cases are nonexistent, or the inferences that a jury must draw are not based on logic, but speculation. Substantial evidence must be solid to pass this legal requirement in most jurisdictions.

Video footage may prove to be substantial evidence.
Video footage may prove to be substantial evidence.

The substantial evidence standard is often applied in administrative hearings. The board or panel is required to examine the evidence as a whole and base a decision that is consistent with what reasonable minds would conclude based on the same evidence. Some jurisdictions prohibit the use of hearsay evidence, such as journals or letters, and decisions reached on such evidence are often overturned on appeal. For example, if there’s an objection to a trademark registration matter and the United States Trademark and Patent Office rules grant a trademark based on logical evidence, then the decision will likely stand. The appellant would have to prove that the evidence presented was hearsay or based merely on conjecture or speculation.

A plaintiff does not have to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to provide substantial evidence. That is a higher standard used in criminal cases. A similar higher standard in civil cases is the preponderance of the evidence. Courts have ruled that substantial evidence is less than the preponderance of the evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt, but more than a mere scintilla of the evidence presented. The threshold is less when proving substantial evidence, but it must still be solid evidence that’s reasonable and credible.

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