Compared to direct evidence
• Direct evidence is “[e]vidence that is based on personal knowledge or observation and that, if true, proves a fact without inference or presumption.” Conversely, circumstantial evidence is “[e]vidence based on inference and not on personal knowledge or observation.”
Jackson v. State, 758 N.E.2d 1030, 1036 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001)(citing Davenport v. State, 749 N.E.2d 1144, 1149 (Ind. 2001), reh’g denied)(“Direct evidence is defined as evidence that is based on personal knowledge or observation and that, if true, proves a fact without inference or presumption.”)
• Indiana case law has expressed it thusly: “Direct evidence means evidence that directly proves a fact, without an inference, and which in itself, if true, conclusively establishes that fact. Circumstantial evidence means evidence that proves a fact from which an inference of the existence of another fact may be drawn.”
See Jackson v. State, 758 N.E.2d 1030, 1036 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001)(quoting Nichols v. State, 591 N.E.2d 134, 136 (Ind. 1992))(“By contrast, ‘circumstantial evidence immediately establishes collateral facts from which the main fact may be inferred.’”)
• “Direct evidence is a proposition which is consistent only with either the proposed conclusion or its contradictory; circumstantial evidence is consistent with both the proposed conclusion and its contradictory.”
• [I]f an eyewitness testifies to seeing the defendant commit the crime, yet on cross-examination admits that she is not “absolutely” positive of her identification of the defendant but is only “ninety-eight percent” positive that it was the defendant she saw, we would not say that her testimony is circumstantial evidence. Eyewitness testimony is considered direct evidence. No inferential steps are involved, the jury must decide only whether to believe the eyewitness and, in so doing, what weight to give to her testimony. The eyewitness testimony is consistent only with the “proposed conclusion” that the defendant committed the crime. Her statement that she is “ninety-eight percent” positive of the identification goes to the credibility of her testimony.
• “In cases based solely on circumstantial evidence, there are generally no witnesses to the alleged crime.”
Sufficiency of circumstantial evidence
• Circumstantial evidence is no different from other evidence for the purpose of determining whether there is evidence of probative value from which a reasonable trier of fact can infer the defendant's guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
• [A] defendant may be convicted on wholly circumstantial evidence.
See Mendoza v. State, 869 N.E.2d 546, 554 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), trans. denied(citing Franklin v. State, 715 N.E.2d 1237, 1241 (Ind. 1999))(“A conviction may be based entirely on circumstantial evidence.”)
See also Hampton v. State, 873 N.E.2d 1074, 1079 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007)(citing Moore v. State, 652 N.E.2d 53, 55 (Ind. 1995), reh’g denied)(“[A] criminal conviction may be based solely on circumstantial evidence.”)
See also Wilson v. State, 966 N.E.2d 1259, 1265 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), trans. denied(citing Bond v. State, 925 N.E.2d 773, 781 (Ind. 2010), reh’g denied, trans. denied)(“A conviction may be based upon circumstantial evidence alone.”)
• Even where the evidence is entirely circumstantial, the evidence need not exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. It is enough if an inference reasonably tending to support the verdict can be drawn from the circumstantial evidence.
See Peters v. State, 959 N.E.2d 347, 355 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011)(citing Hayes v. State, 876 N.E.2d 373, 375 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), trans. denied)(“Circumstantial evidence need not overcome every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. It is sufficient if an inference drawn from the circumstantial evidence reasonably tends to support the conviction.”)
See also Mendoza v. State, 869 N.E.2d 546, 554 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), trans. denied(citing Kriner v. State, 699 N.E.2d 659, 663 (Ind. 1998))(“The circumstantial evidence need not overcome every reasonable hypothesis of innocence; rather, the evidence is sufficient if an inference may reasonably be drawn from it to support the verdict.”)
See also Butler v. State, 622 N.E.2d 1035, 1039 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993), reh’g denied, trans. denied(citing Eifler v. State, 570 N.E.2d 70, 75 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991), trans. denied)(“It is not necessary that every reasonable hypothesis of innocence be overcome, but only that a reasonable inference in support of the verdict may be drawn.”)
• Circumstantial evidence by its nature is a web of facts in which no single strand may be dispositive. In a prosecution based on circumstantial proof, the evidence in the aggregate may point to guilt where individual elements of the State's case might not.
See Jester v. State, 724 N.E.2d 235, 238 (Ind. 2000)(quoting Kriner v. State, 699 N.E.2d 659, 664 (Ind. 1998))(“Although each piece of evidence viewed in isolation may seem insufficient, in a conviction based on circumstantial proof, ‘the evidence in the aggregate may point to guilt where individual elements of the State's case might not.’”)
Particular applications of circumstantial evidence
• Elements of offenses and identity may be established entirely by circumstantial evidence and the logical inferences drawn therefrom.
See Hedges v. State, 443 N.E.2d 62, 67 (Ind. 1982)(citing Harris v. State, 425 N.E.2d 154, 156 (Ind. 1981))(“While the State must prove each element of the offense charged, circumstantial evidence and the logical inferences drawn therefrom may establish the elements of the offense.”)
See also Stayton v. State, 400 N.E.2d 784, 787-788 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980), reh’g denied(citing Lisenko v. State, 355 N.E.2d 841, 843 (Ind. 1976))(“Clearly the State must prove each element of the charged offense, however, such elements may properly be proved by circumstantial evidence and the logical inferences drawn therefrom.”)
• Mens rea can be established by circumstantial evidence . . . .
Cf. Baxter v. State, 891 N.E.2d 110, 121 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008)(citing Lykins v. State, 726 N.E.2d 1265, 1271 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000))(“The State is not required to prove mens rea by direct and positive evidence.”)
• For more information about using circumstantial evidence to prove mens rea, please review Intent/Mental State.
• “The corpus delicti may be established by circumstantial evidence.”
See also Hawkins v. State, 884 N.E.2d 939, 945 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), trans. denied(citing Jones v. State, 701 N.E.2d 863, 866 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998))(“Circumstantial evidence may be the sole means of establishing the corpus delicti.”)