Evidence Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Evidence, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Evidence?

n. every type of proof legally presented at trial (allowed by the judge) which is intended to convince the judge and/or jury of alleged facts material to the case. It can include oral testimony of witnesses, including experts on technical matters, documents, public records, objects, photographs and depositions (testimony under oath taken before trial). It also includes so-called “circumstantial evidence” which is intended to create belief by showing surrounding circumstances which logically lead to a conclusion of fact. Comments and arguments by the attorneys, statements by the judge and answers to questions which the judge has ruled objectionable are not evidence. Charts, maps and models which are used to demonstrate or explain matters are not evidence themselves, but testimony based upon such items and marks on such material may be evidence. Evidence must survive objections of opposing attorneys that it is irrelevant, immaterial or violates rules against “hearsay” (statements by a party not in court), and/or other technicalities.

History and Meaning of Evidence

Evidence is an essential element in any legal proceeding that aims to prove or disprove a fact. In the context of law, evidence refers to any material or testimony, orally or in writing, that a judge or jury may rely upon to determine disputed issues. The concept dates back to ancient legal systems, and its evolution across various legal systems influenced the development of evidence law.

In the United States, the law of evidence has undergone significant changes, reflecting legal and societal developments. The law of evidence is grounded in the U.S. Constitution, statutes, and case decisions. The Federal Rules of Evidence, adopted in 1975, regulate the admissibility of evidence in federal courts. State courts have their own rules of evidence, which may differ from the federal rules.

Examples of Evidence

  1. In a criminal trial, the prosecution may introduce evidence, such as a murder weapon, fingerprints, or DNA samples, to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  2. In a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff may present evidence, such as medical records and expert testimony, to prove that the medical professional's actions caused harm to the patient.
  3. In a contract dispute, either party may present evidence, such as written agreements or emails, to prove the existence and terms of the contract.

Legal Terms Similar to Evidence

  1. Admissibility - Refers to the ability of evidence to be considered by a judge or jury in a legal proceeding.
  2. Hearsay - Refers to an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.
  3. Witness - A person who provides testimony or evidence in a legal proceeding.