What Is The Difference Between Physical And Circumstantial Evidence?

Evidence as it is, say at a trial or hearing may include witness testimonies, documents, video exhibits, etc., and the facts that the lawyers agree to hold true before the trial starts. But often, people get confused between what is considered as direct evidence and what is circumstantial evidence.

Direct evidence essentially constitutes a witness testifying about the events they recalled about the unfortunate day of the offense. Therefore, this may include everything and anything they observed with their senses which is the smell, voice, visual accounts, etc. The judge will ultimately have to test the reliability of these evidences.

Now, when circumstantial evidence is discussed, the witness is not in a position to tell the judge directly about the fact he is stating and so on to be proved. In its place, the witness presents accounts of evidence that could ‘potentially’ be considered reliable and helpful to come to a reasonable conclusion about the events and therefore the fact intended to be proved.


Section 3 of the IEA, 1872 defines evidence

According to Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act (IEA), 1872, the evidence is defined as including both oral and written evidence. Oral evidence in this context would mean all the statements which the court allows or what is required to be made by the witness concerning the events related to the offense committed. The other category of evidence includes documentary evidence which is essentially written evidence like electronic records the court uses for inspection.

There are many types of evidence such as-: Eyewitness, Independent witness, inimical witness, interested witness, related witness, participants, prior statements by the defendants, documents, physical evidence, scientific evidence such as fingerprints, DNA etc.

Moreover, there exist two basic forms of evidence which are a) Direct Evidence, and b) Circumstantial Evidence (commonly called Indirect Evidence)


Direct Evidence

‘Direct Evidence’ or ‘positive evidence’ is evidence about the real point in controversy. It helps to establish a pertinent fact without seeking any interference. It has a direct chain and isn’t broken anywhere so as to leave any room for assumptions. It helps to assert the truth as it is and therefore facilitates in proving or disproving any fact. Hence, direct evidence is a tangible, watertight evidence that presents the happening and does not require any sort of reasoning to arrive at the said conclusion.


Even though direct evidence is considered to be superior to circumstantial evidence, the major shortcoming we face is to rely on that evidence solely without any reason to actually prove it’s existence. If say A saw B running away and he is the sole eyewitness, the judge will have to consider that as a major piece of evidence. So, what happens, in this case, is that sometimes eyewitness maliciously testifies under oath which is an offense under the law, but can also go undetected.


Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial Evidence is a series of other facts than the fact in issue. Circumstantial evidence must not be confused with hearsay or secondary evidence. The circumstantial evidence essentially constitutes direct and/or primary evidence. In Meria Venkata Rao v. State of A.P[1] it was held that where the prosecution case mainly rested on extra-judicial confession as one of the circumstances and the accused confessed commission of the alleged crime 20 days after the incident but if no apparent reason was found for accused to do so, the possibility deposing the confession at the instance of police could not be ruled out.

A case which rests squarely on circumstantial evidence the interference of guilt can be justified only when all the incriminating facts and circumstances are found to be incompatible with the innocence of the accused or guilt of any other person.[2]

Therefore, nowadays circumstantial evidence is being given more importance than direct evidence, given its reliability since it is verified multiple times before being accepted by the court as asserting the truth and hence the fact to be proved. Also because direct evidence is misused and justice gets impaired.


[1]AIR 1994 SC 470

[2]Manjunath ChennnabasappaMadall v. the State of Karnataka, AIR 2007 SC 2080 at p. 2082

Also Read – Forensic Significance of Physical Evidences in Crime Scene Investigation


Md Sahabuddin Mondal

Junior Advocate, Calcutta High Court

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