Difference Between Direct Evidence And Circumstantial Evidence


According to Black’s law dictionary something (including testimony, documents, and tangible objects) that tends to prove or disprove the existence of an alleged fact; anything presented to the senses and offered to prove or disprove the existence of an alleged fact is known as Evidence.[1] Evidence comes in many forms, such as eyewitnesses, participants, prior statements made by the defendant, photos, videos, documents, physical evidence, and scientific evidence, such as DNA or fingerprints. No matter the sort, there are two specific forms of facts that can be submitted to the trial – direct proof and circumstantial evidence.

“In its original context, the term ‘evidence’ means the state of being evident, i.e. simple, clear or notorious.  Still, it is applied to that which tends to give evidence or to produce evidence.

Before going through the elaboration of the above-mentioned forms of Evidence, let’s first look at what is “Evidence” and then move step by step.


As per section 3 of the Indian evidence act 1872[2], evidence means and includes-

  1. All the statements which the court permits or requires to be made before it by witnesses, in relation to matters of facts under injury;
  1. All the documents including electronic records, created for the review by the court.

Evidence is any matter of fact that a party to a lawsuit has sought to prove or confute a certain issue in a court case. This may be assumed whether a set of rules and norms or a set of principles and guidelines is used to decide which certainties must be given, and to what degree, a judge or jury may conceive about certain facts, as a test of a particular issue in that case.

Now after having a clear understanding of what is Evidence, we shall move on to the title of the article, that is, what is the difference between Direct evidence and Circumstantial evidence.


Direct evidence is the testimony that goes directly to the particular point of the question and proves that, if assumed without inference or deductive logic, e.g., an eyewitness to a murder is direct evidence.

Direct evidence can be a witness admitting to a direct recollection of events. This can include what they’ve seen, what they’ve heard, or anything they’ve noticed with their senses. Direct evidence is considered to be the best form of oral evidence to be proved.

In direct evidence, a witness relates what they have directly experienced. (Experience is usually through sight or hearing, although it may come through any sense, including smell, touch, or pain.[3]

For example, witness A who testifies that he/ she saw defendant B shoot the victim gives direct evidence.[4]

Illustration: A saw B shoot C in a restaurant, then C died. A is an eye witness of the murder being committed. Being an eye witness to a crime would amount to direct evidence.


Circumstantial evidence is when a witness cannot inform you directly of the fact that it is supposed to be proven.  Instead, the witness provides proof of certain facts which, on the basis of a rational conclusion, will drive the fact finder to believe that the claim is to be proven.[5].

In India, Sir James Stephen introduced the term circumstantial evidence. The definition of circumstantial evidence has emerged from the interplay between judicial interpretation and statutes. Circumstantial evidence, also known as indirect evidence, is an unrelated chain of events which, when put together, formulates circumstances leading to the commission of a crime and can be used to derive a conclusion.[6]

An example of circumstantial evidence would be, if your sister comes to you and says she saw the snowfall today, then there is direct evidence that it was snowing. If your sister told you she woke up and saw the snow on the ground, then there is circumstantial evidence that it was snowing. She didn’t see the snow, but it’s a reasonable inference that if there’s snow on the ground, it must have snowed.


  1. Direct evidence does not require any supposition or assumption that would lead to the conclusion to be drawn from the evidence. Circumstantial evidence, often referred to as indirect evidence, allows an inference to be made between the evidence and the result to be drawn from it.
  2. The value of Direct Evidence is more than Circumstantial Evidence is more than Circumstantial Evidence. Here is an illustration to explain the distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence is the assessment of whether it rained. On the one side, if an individual testifies that he or she looked out of a window and saw raining, then it is direct evidence that it was raining. If, on the other hand, a witness testified that he or she heard drizzling, and then went out and found that the land was soaked, smelled freshness in the air, and felt that the air was soggy, those signs would be circumstantial evidence that it had rained.

But this is not always the case. There are also cases where the conviction has happened purely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. In the case of Ramawati Devi vs. State of Bihar, the judgment of conviction was solely based on circumstantial evidence.

Similarly, the two leading cases, Priyadarshani Matoo and Jessica Lal in India were mainly based on circumstantial evidence. Similarly, the two leading cases, Priyadarshani Matoo and Jessica Lal in India were mainly based on circumstantial evidence.[7]

Direct evidence turns on whether you trust the witness but Circumstantial evidence requires a different form of reasoning, it not only requires you to believe the witness but also requires evaluating conclusions in light of all the evidence.


The law states that both direct and circumstantial evidence is permissible as a means of proving the facts. The law does not benefit one form of evidence over another. It’s up to us to determine how much value to give to any of the evidence, whether it’s direct or circumstantial. You are allowed to provide equal value to each one of them.

Circumstantial evidence is often debated as it carries less weight than direct evidence. But this is not always true under the law and in practice. One of the drawbacks of direct evidence is that it relies entirely on evidence without any reasoning or thinking to prove its existence. For example, it may happen that an eyewitness may maliciously give testimony. Nowadays, circumstantial evidence is more likely given priority than direct evidence because direct evidence is misused and justice gets compromised most often in criminal law. Circumstantial evidence does not require a higher degree of certainty than direct evidence.

While there is a major difference in both the evidence, but reliability is definitely not one of them.

[1] Black’s law dictionary

[2] India Evidence Act, 1872

[3] State v. Famber, 214 S.W.2d 40 (Mo. 1947).

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_evidence

[5] https://www.dellisonlaw.com/what-is-the-difference-between-direct-and-circumstantial-evidence#:~:text=However%2C%20many%20people%20confuse%20the,their%20direct%20recollection%20of%20events.&text=Circumstantial%20evidence%20is%20when%20a,is%20intended%20to%20be%20proved.

[6] Sudershani Ray, Circumstantial Evidence in India, LEGAL SERVICE INDIA,(Feb 1, 2019, 7:49 PM) http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l136-Circumstantial-Evidence.html.

[7] http://saltlakecoffeeconnection.com/3653-research-paper-on-circumstantial.php

This Article is written by Amisha Sah,2nd year. BBA LLB (HONS) student at NMIMS.

Also Read – Under What Circumstances Secondary Evidence Is Admissible?

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