We're all so used to watching TV and movies with lawyers referring to "evidence." Stock phrases such as "the evidence will show" and "Your Honor, I'd like to introduce [X] as evidence" crop up with regularity. But what, really, constitutes evidence in the typical courtroom? There are several different types.
Real evidence includes objects involved in the case being tried, such as a gun or baseball bat. Documentary evidence is a subset of real evidence, containing language -- typically newspapers, or paperwork such as letters and contracts. Demonstrative evidence is an illustration used to describe something about the case, such as a diagram of a crime scene. Testimonial, or anecdotal, evidence includes oral and written accounts provided by victims, suspects and witnesses.
Another type of evidence that's tailor-made for our modern age is computer evidence. Courts in the United States generally allow computer-based evidence, as long as the evidence meets the court's standards. For evidence from a computer to be eligible for use in a court of law, prosecutors must first verify the source of the data (usually a suspect's computer) and also verify that the evidence has not been tampered with. This is because it's generally understood that digital data can be easily altered, corrupted or faked. Courts will often turn to the expertise of a forensic computer examiner to review this type of evidence.
Also, U.S. courts have established that computer evidence usually does not count as hearsay. Hearsay is a legal term that means any verbal statement made outside of a courtroom that is used to back up assertions made in a case. Hearsay is typically not allowed as legal evidence, and any statements generated on a computer by a person must first be shown to be authentic before they are admissible. Hearsay determinations in computer cases are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
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