Being charged with a crime is a serious matter in Mecklenburg County, as you can face harsh punishments and the long-term consequences of a criminal record if convicted. One crucial aspect of any criminal defense case is the evidence presented to prove or disprove guilt.
The types of evidence used in North Carolina criminal cases play a critical role in the outcome, and understanding them is essential for a strong defense. The experienced Charlotte criminal defense lawyers at Browning & Long, PLLC, investigate and collect strategic evidence on your behalf to challenge the evidence the prosecutor is using to try to convict you.
Understanding Evidence Used in a North Carolina Criminal Case
This type of evidence refers to information or materials presented in court to prove or disprove facts relevant to the case. Evidence is crucial in establishing the innocence or guilt of the accused and is used by both the prosecution and the defense to support their respective positions. The prosecution must present enough evidence to establish a person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a higher standard of proof than is required in civil cases.
In North Carolina, an accused has a right to discovery of the evidence the prosecutor will use against them. This right is more limited in misdemeanor cases than in felony cases. In addition, the defendant is required to disclose evidence they intend to use in most courts in our state.
Both direct and circumstantial evidence can be used to prove someone's innocence or guilt. Understanding the differences between these types of evidence is important if you were charged with a crime in North Carolina.
What is Direct Evidence in a Criminal Case?
This type of evidence directly proves a fact without requiring any inferences or assumptions. It offers a clear and straightforward link between the evidence presented and the fact it seeks to establish.
Direct evidence is often seen as highly persuasive in court. However, a skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to challenge the reliability of this evidence and file a motion to have the evidence suppressed if it was obtained through an unlawful search and seizure, there were errors in the chain of custody, or other mistakes were established. Here are some examples of direct evidence.
Individuals who personally observed the alleged criminal act can provide direct evidence. Their statements recount what they saw, heard, or experienced during the incident in question.
Surveillance camera footage, body camera recordings, or any other type of video that captures the alleged crime as it happened is considered direct evidence.
A defendant's voluntary confession or admission of guilt to law enforcement officers or others can serve as direct evidence against them.
Physical objects, such as a murder weapon or stolen property, can also be considered direct evidence when directly linked to the alleged crime.
How Is Circumstantial Evidence Different?
Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, doesn’t directly prove a fact but relies on inferences and deductions to establish a conclusion. It indirectly suggests that a fact is true based on the circumstances surrounding the crime.
This type of evidence requires careful analysis and argumentation in court, as it may not be as straightforward as direct evidence. However, it can still be compelling evidence used by the prosecutor to convict someone. In addition, an accused can use circumstantial evidence to build a strong defense.
Circumstantial evidence often involves establishing motive, means, and opportunity. For example, if it can be shown that the defendant had a motive to commit the crime, possessed the means to do so, and had the opportunity, it might create a strong inference of guilt. The accused can also use circumstantial evidence to suggest that someone else committed the offense.
Types of Evidence Used in Criminal Cases
Some evidence is more persuasive than others. The following types might be used by the prosecution to try to convict someone, or a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer like the professionals at Browning & Long may rely on this information to defend them.
First-hand accounts are often a critical element in criminal cases. Witnesses who were present at the scene of the alleged crime provide details of what they observed. While eyewitness testimony can be powerful, it’s not always completely reliable due to factors like stress, memory bias, and the fallibility of human perception. A criminal defense attorney may be able to challenge their testimony in cross-examination.
Physical evidence encompasses a wide range of tangible items that a prosecutor can introduce in court to attempt to prove a defendant's guilt. This category includes the following:
- Weapons used in the commission of a crime, such as firearms or knives, can serve as compelling physical evidence.
- Fingerprints found at the scene of a crime can link a defendant to the location and potentially the criminal act.
- Trace evidence—including microscopic materials such as hair, fibers, or soil—provides clues about a suspect's presence at a particular location.
- DNA analysis may establish a direct link between a suspect and a crime scene or victim.
This includes written or recorded materials that can be presented to support a case. Documentary evidence is often subject to authentication procedures to ensure its validity in court.
This category covers a wide range of documents. Bank statements, tax records, financial documents, and correspondence can be used to demonstrate financial transactions or patterns of criminal activity relevant to the case. In cases involving white collar crimes, written agreements, contracts, and forged documents can be crucial pieces of evidence.
Electronic communications demonstrate a digital trail of evidence, including text messages, emails, and social media posts. Hard drive data and surveillance footage are other types of digital evidence that the prosecutor or criminal defense lawyer presents at a trial.
Charts, maps, diagrams, and crime scene layouts are types of demonstrative evidence used in criminal cases when a witness is testifying.
If the defendant confessed to committing the crime or made other incriminating statements to the police, this evidence may be used against them in court. However, their statements may be inadmissible if they weren’t given their Miranda warnings or if police officers continued questioning them after they exercised their right to remain silent.
Expert witnesses have specialized knowledge, training, or experience in a particular field relevant to a criminal case. Attorneys use expert testimony to help the court understand complex scientific, technical, or medical issues.
Examples of expert testimony include forensic experts, medical professionals, psychologists, and forensic accountants. Expert witnesses can offer insights and interpretations that can significantly impact the outcome of a case and are frequently used by criminal defense attorneys to challenge the prosecution's evidence against their clients.
An alibi is a criminal defense strategy in which the defendant asserts that they weren’t present at the crime scene when it occurred. Alibi evidence may include witness statements, surveillance footage, cellphone records, or other records that support the accused's claim of being in a different location at the time of the alleged offense.
How Forensic Evidence is Used in North Carolina Criminal Cases
Forensic evidence plays a crucial role in many criminal defense cases. Usually considered a form of direct evidence, it involves the application of scientific techniques and principles to analyze physical evidence. Here's a more detailed look at the types of forensic evidence commonly used.
DNA evidence is used to establish a direct link between a suspect and a crime scene or victim. It can also help identify unknown individuals through DNA databases.
DNA evidence can also be used in an accused's defense. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to challenge the validity of the DNA evidence issued by the prosecutor or may use it to prove a defendant's innocence.
Fingerprint comparison is a standard forensic technique that matches latent prints found at a crime scene to known individuals.
Ballistics experts examine firearms, bullets, and cartridge cases to determine if they match the weapon used in a crime.
In cases involving drug-related offenses or poisoning, toxicology reports reveal the presence of specific substances in a victim’s body.
In cases of suspicious deaths or homicides, autopsies conducted by forensic pathologists provide valuable information about the cause of death.
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis
Bloodstain patterns are crucial evidence that offers insights into the sequence of events at a crime scene.
Digital forensics experts analyze electronic devices, such as computers and smartphones, to recover data that may be relevant to a case.