What is Evidence?


Evidence is a crucial component of legal proceedings, serving as the foundation upon which cases are built and adjudicated. Let's explore the nature of evidence, its various types and categories, the role of witnesses, and the rules that govern admissibility in civil trials.


Definition of Evidence


Evidence encompasses all types of proof legally presented at trial with the aim of convincing the judge or jury of the validity of a party’s argument. It can take many forms, from physical objects to testimony and scientific findings. The purpose of evidence is to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact within a trial.


Categories of Evidence                


Evidence in civil trials is generally categorized as follows:


  • Real Evidence (Physical Evidence): Tangible, physical objects that are involved in the case itself, such as a damaged vehicle in an accident claim, a defective product in a liability case, or a signed contract in a dispute over an agreement.
  • Demonstrative Evidence: Evidence that illustrates or helps explain testimony, such as maps, videos, photographs, and diagrams. It is used to clarify the facts for the jury or judge.
  • Documentary Evidence: Written documents that are offered to prove or disprove elements of the case. This can include emails, letters, contracts, medical records, and financial statements.
  • Testimonial Evidence: Statements made by competent witnesses under oath, often considered the most influential form of evidence. This encompasses both oral testimony in court and written statements, such as affidavits.
  • Digital Evidence: Information stored or transmitted in digital form that a party to a court case may use at trial. Examples include social media posts, digital photographs, and texts or emails sent between parties.
  • Exculpatory Evidence: In civil case, this is evidence that may help one party avoid liability or prove a defense, or in a criminal case, any information that has the potential to exonerate the defendant.


Types of Witnesses


Witnesses are individuals who provide testimonial evidence in court. There are different types of witnesses:


  • Fact Witnesses: People who provide testimony about what they saw, heard, or experienced. Their testimony is confined to personal knowledge and cannot include opinions or speculation.
  • Expert Witnesses: Individuals with specialized knowledge, skills, or expertise who offer their opinion based on the facts of the case. Unlike lay witnesses, they are allowed to give opinions.
  • Character Witnesses: Individuals who testify about a person's character traits, often in cases where the individual’s character is in question.


Admissible vs Inadmissible Evidence


Not all evidence is created equal in the eyes of the law. For evidence to be admissible, it must be relevant, material, and competent:


  • Relevant: It must relate directly to the case and have the ability to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.
  • Material: It must be significant and have a legitimate influence on the case’s outcome.
  • Competent: It must be legally valid and reliable. For example, hearsay evidence (a statement made outside of court) is generally considered incompetent unless it falls within an established exception.


Inadmissible evidence is any evidence that doesn't meet these criteria, or which violates the rules of evidence (such as the right to privacy or attorney-client privilege). Other reasons for evidence being inadmissible include:


  • Prejudice: Evidence that might unfairly sway the judge or jury, not because of its relevance or probative value, but because of its potential for bias.
  • Confusion: Evidence that can cause confusion or is a waste of time due to its marginal relevance to the case.
  • Hearsay: As mentioned, hearsay is often inadmissible unless it meets certain exceptions.
  • Legal Privilege: Certain relationships are protected by law (e.g., attorney-client, doctor-patient), and communications within these relationships may be inadmissible.


The rules regarding admissible evidence are set forth in legal codes and are strictly followed to ensure fairness and reliability in the judicial process. Each piece of evidence must pass the test of admissibility before it can be considered by the court.




Evidence in a civil trial forms the backbone of a litigant’s case. Understanding the types of evidence and the rules governing its admissibility is essential for parties to effectively prepare and present their cases, and for courts to reach fair and just decisions.


For more information about evidence and how it is used to prove or disprove fact allegations in civil legal dispute (using easy-to-follow hypothetical examples), check out the Self Rep Edge Video Series and Civil Litigation Workbook.