Direct Versus Circumstantial Evidence in Small Claims Cases

As a plaintiff, you must provide the evidence to prove your case. There are two types of evidence: direct and circumstantial. As a plaintiff, always try and gather as much direct evidence as you can.

  • Direct evidence is a conclusion drawn from a fact. What a person says, hears, or does — if it’s believed to be true — can prove a fact.

  • Circumstantial evidence is a conclusion inferred from the circumstances. Circumstantial evidence is a reasonable conclusion drawn from the available facts.

These examples help clarify the differences:

  • Direct Evidence: You walk out of your house, and water is pouring down from the sky. You’re quickly soaked to the bone. If you testified to these facts, a reasonable person would conclude that you had established that it was raining.

    Direct evidence from every gangster movie script ever written: The bad guy is about to get off because his slick lawyer has bamboozled the court. The wife of the poor slob he rubbed out jumps out of the crowd and shoots the bad guy and his lawyer. This is direct evidence because everyone sees the wife pull the trigger and shoot the ne’er-do-well.

  • Circumstantial evidence: You walk out of your house in the morning; there are puddles of water on the ground, the grass is wet, and when you get in your car, you need to use the wipers to clean the windshield. Although you don’t have any direct evidence or experience that it rained at night, what you observed would allow a reasonable person to conclude that it had rained.

    Circumstantial evidence isn’t always true. If you live in a pineapple under the sea with a trouser-wearing sponge and a starfish who walks on two of his five points, there’s an alternate reason for the exterior moisture.

    Another example from every murder mystery script ever written: The accused is heard to say to her nemesis “I’ll kill you.” Five minutes later, everyone at the party hears a shot. They come into the room, and the accused is standing there holding a gun and her nemesis dead on the floor. No one saw the shooting, but the circumstantial evidence leads to the arrest of the accused.

    Of course, the lawyer of the accused proves that someone else did it, and the accused just happened to walk into the room immediately after the shooting and picked up the gun, just because people in these scripts do dumb things like that.

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