Can You Be Convicted on Circumstantial Evidence?

November 18, 2020

Circumstantial evidence is sometimes misunderstood as being less valid than direct. However, some of the most compelling types of forensic evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA, and blood analysis, are circumstantial. 

Circumstantial VS Direct Evidence


Direct evidence directly links a person to the accused criminal activity. This may come from sources such as the victim, eyewitness testimony, and security footage. 

As an example, seeing a person walking their dog is direct evidence of them walking their dog.


Circumstantial evidence provides evidence that could infer the person is linked to the accused activity. This can come from a variety of sources, including witnesses who didn’t directly see the crime, expert witnesses, and forensic analysis.

For example, seeing someone putting on their jacket and picking up a dog leash would allow you to infer that the person is about to walk their dog. Even though you do not directly see the person walk their dog, from the information available it is the most likely inference.

Circumstantial as Corroborating Evidence

Because circumstantial evidence requires inference, it is not always as strong in proving guilt on its own. Instead, it is often best served as corroborating evidence. It may be used in conjunction with multiple instances of circumstantial evidence to create a strong inference, and/or to corroborate direct evidence.

In corroborating evidence from a witness, circumstantial can be an especially valuable type of evidence. For instance, eyewitness testimony is often unreliable because of the trauma that occurs from the incident. This is especially true where the witness is also the victim. The extreme stress of the situation can lead to making mistakes that can lead to identifying the wrong person or misremembering events.

In the event of a victim as the witness, circumstantial evidence from witnesses not directly engaged in the crime can help to confirm the direct evidence. Although a circumstantial witness may not have seen the direct events, they may be more reliable as they were under less stress.

Take an armed robbery as an example:

The victim, who experienced the robbery is the leading witness and provides direct evidence. Being the victim of an armed robbery, however, results in a high level of trauma. As a result, this stress may affect their reliability as a witness.

People outside the store may be used to corroborate, although the evidence they witnessed was circumstantial. For instance, if they witnessed a person fleeing after the event occurred or acting suspiciously beforehand this evidence could be relevant. Their testimony could strengthen or weaken the direct evidence depending on their reliability and similarities.

Can You be Convicted on Circumstantial Evidence Alone?

It is possible but more difficult, to convict a person on circumstantial evidence alone. Direct evidence simply is not available for every crime. If there is only circumstantial, the Crown must reasonably satisfy that guilt is the only reasonable assumption based on the evidence available.

In this event, a criminal defence lawyer challenges evidence where applicable. The criminal lawyer examines whether the circumstantial evidence is relevant, reliable, and sufficient. Was the evidence collected and applied legally? Did police follow proper protocol for interviewing witnesses, or could their testimony have been led or coached? Were witnesses excluded who would refute the Crown’s evidence?

Circumstantial evidence can also be used to the defendant’s advantage. For example, a circumstantial witness may identify a different person than the direct witness, calling their testimony or reliability into question. 

As well, texts, receipts, and witnesses could corroborate the defendant’s alibi. Inferring that they were at a different location, or otherwise engaged, at the time of the offence.

Toronto Criminal Defence Lawyer

William Jaksa is an experienced criminal lawyer from Toronto. For over ten years he has helped his clients, challenging evidence and protecting their rights. He understands the procedures and requirements for evidence to be collected, used, and challenged in court. Contact William Jaksa for your consultation.

Related Articles

More Articles

Diversion For Criminal Charges in Ontario

Diversion For Criminal Charges in Ontario

Many individuals facing criminal charges have questions about alternate methods of making up for the harm caused by their alleged crime instead of a prison sentence. In this post, we’ll examine what is meant by diversion, go through the diversion procedures and discuss who is eligible and what is...

read more