Circumstantial evidence--it's a term we all hear on TV lawyer and police shows all the time. "The case is purely circumstantial." Defense attorneys on television throw this sentence around in almost every episode of Law & Order. But what exactly is circumstantial evidence? Circumstantial evidence is sometimes also called indirect evidence. Basically put, evidence is circumstantial when it doesn't directly prove guilt, but rather, it's merely a chain in the fence that leads towards guilty. Circumstantial evidence proves a fact that allows you to make an inference of guilt. It's a difficult thing to define with words, but you know it when you see it. For instance, in say a murder trial where a husband is found dead, it is circumstantial evidence against his wife to prove that his wife took out a life insurance policy for him for a million dollars two weeks before he died. In and of itself, that fact surely doesn't prove that she killed him. But, it proves a circumstance that allows you to infer that she did, in this case, it namely proves motive, which is always a type of circumstantial evidence.
But is circumstantial evidence admissible in a criminal trial? And if it is, is it enough to convict a person of a crime? Does it matter if the crime is misdemeanor assault or first degree murder? Circumstantial evidence is most definitely admissible in a criminal trial. It can be considered by a jury and believed or disbelieved like any other piece of evidence. And depending on the amount and nature of circumstantial evidence, it could even be enough to lead to a conviction. As long as a jury belives that a crime has been proven by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt, it doesn't matter whether the evidence used to prove the crime is circumstantial or direct evidence. Further, it doesn't matter what type of crime it is. The standard of proof in each and every criminal case says that a crime has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, regardless of the severity of the crime and despite the possibile sentencing consequences. So it makes no diffierence at all if it's a misdemeanor assault or first degree murder trial.
The murder trial of Shanovia Mack, which is currently taking place in Palm Beach County, is a prime example of when circumstantial evidence can be used against a person. Mack is alleged to have been involved in the murder of a boyfriend who had hit her. The allegation is that Mack's cousin pistol-whipped a friend of the boyfriend and during this incident, the gun went off, shooting and killing the boyfriend. Mack is charged with second degree murder. From the bare facts alleged, it hardly seems that the State could make out murder charges against Mack. Sure, she was there when it happened, but that hardly proves she's guilty of murder. Second degree murder is where a person is engaging in some act that is imminently dangerous, he shows a disregard for human life, and a person is killed as a result. Even if Mack told her cousin to beat the guy up for hitting her, which the State would have to prove, that doesn't mean that she would know he'd use a gun in doing so.
But, alas, circumstantial evidence also was admitted that showed that Mack told her boyfriend she would have him "murked", which is slang for murdered. She also sent numerous text messages indicated that he was "dead" because of what he did to her. Whether or not these bits of circumstantial evidence rise to proving her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest burden under the law, is now for the jury to determine. But if she is convicted, it appears as if circumstantial evidence will be Mack's downfall.