Go to Homepage
QR Code



Circumstantial vs. Direct Evidence in Wisconsin Criminal Cases

Posted on in Criminal Defense

b2ap3_thumbnail_rr.JPGBy: Attorney Nicole Masnica and Paralegal Rachel Sweet

Originally published: August 10, 2018 -- Updated: February 17, 2023

Update: In addition to understanding the types of circumstantial evidence that may play a role in a criminal trial, those who are accused of committing crimes will need to understand the ways that this evidence may be challenged. An experienced criminal defense attorney can cast doubt on the validity of certain types of evidence or witness testimony, or they can challenge the narrative proposed by prosecutors. Some methods that may be used to respond to evidence presented in a trial include:

  • Questioning eyewitness testimony - Many criminal cases rely on the identification of suspects by eyewitnesses. However, people's memories can be notoriously unreliable. In some cases, witnesses may be influenced by law enforcement officials who are looking to confirm their suspicions about a suspect. In others, people who had been arrested in connection with the crime in question or for other offenses may testify against someone in return for leniency. By closely examining witnesses, looking for inconsistencies in their statements, and demonstrating that they may be uncertain about what they saw, a defense attorney can poke holes in prosecutors' arguments.

  • Challenging the opinions of experts - Many criminal cases rely on so-called experts who can supposedly reconstruct the circumstances of a crime. However, these experts often use methods that have been found to be unreliable. A skilled attorney can question the validity of the methods used, and they may be able to show that evidence such as bite marks, blood splatter patterns, or even fingerprints may not necessarily prove that a defendant committed the offense in question.

  • Challenging the timeline presented by prosecutors - The case against a defendant may rely on claims that a series of events took place that put them near the scene of the crime and indicated that they committed the alleged offense. However, disputing certain elements of this timeline may show that the events could not have occurred as suspected. For example, if a defense attorney can show that the defendant was in a different location than the prosecutor claimed, the entire narrative may not make sense.

In addition to providing representation during a criminal trial and ensuring that all evidence against a defendant is addressed correctly, the attorneys of Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP, LLP can assist with appeals that address the improper use of evidence during a trial. In some cases, we may be able to appeal a conviction on the grounds that evidence presented during a trial should have been inadmissible because it was obtained through an illegal search. We will work with our clients to explore every possible avenue for defense and build successful strategies during criminal cases or appeals. To learn more about how we can assist with these matters, contact our Milwaukee criminal defense lawyers at 414-271-1440.

Being arrested and charged with a crime can be a frightening prospect. A criminal conviction has serious consequences to a person’s life, finances, career, and freedom. However, those who are facing criminal charges may not understand the laws involved in their case, the processes followed during an investigation, or their options for defense.

One aspect of criminal prosecutions that can often cause confusion is the different types of evidence that can be used to show a person’s guilt. During a Wisconsin criminal case, it is important to understand the difference between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. 

Direct Evidence

Evidence that clearly demonstrates a defendant committed a crime is known as direct evidence. Factual evidence that incontrovertibly shows a person committed the alleged offense may be used to meet the standards for proving guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. Examples of direct evidence include:

  • Security camera footage showing a person breaking into a store and stealing items;
  • An audio recording of a person admitting to committing a crime;
  • Ballistics tests that show a bullet was fired by a specific firearm;
  • Eyewitness testimony that a person saw the defendant commit a crime;
  • The defendant’s fingerprints on a weapon used to commit murder; and
  • Computer records showing a person illegally used someone else’s credit card.

Circumstantial Evidence

In many cases, direct evidence of a crime does not exist and prosecutors must use evidence that implies the defendant committed the alleged offense. This is known as circumstantial evidence, and examples of this type of evidence include:

  • Eyewitness testimony that a person was seen fleeing from the scene of a crime;
  • A person’s fingerprints found at the scene of the crime alongside other people’s fingerprints;
  • An audio recording of the defendant stating his or her intent to commit a crime before the alleged crime actually occurred;
  • Harassing emails or text messages a defendant sent to a person who was later assaulted; and
  • A person’s browser history showing how he or she searched for information about the tools used to commit the crime of which he or she is accused.

While a single piece of circumstantial evidence may not be enough to demonstrate a person’s guilt, multiple pieces of evidence may be used together, and the prosecutor may ask the jury to “connect the dots” to determine that the defendant committed the alleged offense.

Contact a Milwaukee Criminal Defense Attorney 

When you are facing criminal charges, it is important to understand the evidence that could be used by the prosecution to demonstrate your guilt. To secure a conviction, prosecutors must convince a jury that you committed the alleged offense beyond all reasonable doubt. 

At Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP our skilled attorneys can help you understand your options for defense, including finding gaps or inconsistencies in the evidence or showing that the prosecution has not met the reasonable doubt standard. To schedule a consultation with a Milwaukee, WI criminal defense lawyer, call our office at 414-271-1440.





Back to Top