Circumstantial Evidence


The term “circumstantial evidence” refers to evidence of facts or circumstances from which the existence or nonexistence of fact in issue may be inferred.  Such evidence does not directly prove or disprove the fact to the decided, but instead is evidence of another fact or a set of facts from which one may logically conclude the truth or falsity of the fact in question.

For instance, a witness testifying that she saw an individual enter her store wearing a wet raincoat could be used as circumstantial evidence to prove that it was raining on that particular day.  Again, the witness did not directly testify that it was raining that day.  But, based on her testimony regarding the wet raincoat, one could reasonably conclude that it was raining.

In both criminal and civil cases, both direct evidence and circumstantial evidence are acceptable types of evidence to prove or disprove the elements of a charge or cause of action.

Case Citations

People v. Yokum, 145 Cal. App. 2d 245, 249 (1956).

“The terms ‘indirect evidence’ and ‘circumstantial evidence’ are interchangeable and synonymous.”

People v. Goldstein, 139 Cal. App. 2d 146, 152 (1956) (citations omitted).

“Circumstantial evidence is that which is applied to the principal fact, indirectly, or through the medium of other facts, from which the principal fact is inferred.  The characteristics of circumstantial evidence, as distinguished from that which is direct, are, first, the existence and presentation of one or more evidentiary facts; and, second, a process of inference, by which these facts are so connected with the fact sought as to tend to produce a persuasion of its truth.  An inference is a conclusion as to the existence of a material fact that a trier of fact may properly draw from the existence of certain primary facts.  Inferences drawn from physical facts amount to circumstantial evidence.  It has been said that circumstantial evidence, as distinguished from direct evidence, is testimony not based on actual personal knowledge or observation of the facts in controversy, but of other facts from which deductions are drawn, showing indirectly the facts sought to be proved.”

Devine v. Delano, 272 Ill. 166.

“Circumstantial evidence is the proof of certain facts and circumstances in a given case from which the jury may infer other connected facts which usually reasonably follow according to the common experience of mankind . . . A greater or less probability, leading on the whole, to a satisfactory conclusion, is all that can reasonably be required to establish controverted facts.”

Related entries