What is Evidence?

Legal Definition
Rules of evidence are, as the name indicates, the rules by which a court determines what evidence is admissible at trial. In the U.S., federal courts follow the Federal Rules of Evidence, while state courts generally follow their own rules. See, for example California's evidence rules, Indiana's evidence rules, or Washington's evidence rules. State rules of evidence are generally imposed by the state legislature upon the state courts.

In establishing what evidence is admissible, many rules of evidence concentrate first on the relevancy of the offered evidence. See, for example Article IV of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Rules of evidence also allocate among the parties the burden of producing evidence and the burden of persuading the court. See, for example Article III of the Federal Rules of Evidence or Division 5 of the California Evidence Code.

The Federal Rules of Evidence also address the admissibility of hearsay, oral testimony, and Article V of the Federal Rules of Evidence and Division Eight of the California Evidence Code.
Legal Definition
That which demonstrates, makes clear, or ascertains the truth of the very fact or point in issue; 3 Bl. Com. 367; or it is whatever is exhibited to a court or jury, whether it be by matter of record, or writing, or by the testimony of witnesses, in order to enable them to pronounce with certainty; concerning the truth of any matter in dispute; Bac. Ab. Evidence, in pr.; or it is that which is legally submitted to a jury, to enable them to decide upon the questions in dispute or issue, as pointed out by the pleadings and distinguished from all comment or argument. 1 Stark. Ev. 8. 2. Evidence may be considered with reference to, 1. The nature of the evidence. 2. The object of the evidence. 3. The instruments of evidence. 4. The effect of evidence. 1. As to its nature, evidence may be considered with reference to its being 1. Primary evidence. 2. Secondary evidence. 3. Positive. 4. Presumptive. 5. Hearsay. 6. Admissions.

4. - 1. Primary evidence. The law generally requires that the best evidence the case admits of should be given; B. N. P. 293; 1 Stark. Ev. 102, 390; for example, when a written contract has been entered into, and the object is to prove what it was, it is requisite to produce the original writing if it is to be attained, and in that case no copy or other inferior evidence will be received.

5. To this general rule there are several exceptions. 1. As it refers to the quality rather than to the quantity of evidence, it is evident that the fullest proof that every case admits of, is not requisite; if, therefore, there are several eye-witnesses to a fact, it may be sufficiently proved by one only. 2. It is not always requisite, when the matter to be proved has been reduced to writing, that the writing should be produced; as, if the narrative of a fact to be proved has been committed to writing, it may yet be proved by parol evidence. A receipt for the payment of money, for example, will not exclude parol evidence of payment. 14 Esp. R. 213; and see 7 B. & C. 611; S. C. 14 E. C. L. R. 101; 1 Campb. R. 439; 3 B. & A. 566; 6 E. C. L. R. 377.

6. - 2. Secondary evidence. That species of proof which is admissible on the loss of primary evidence, and which becomes by that event the best evidence. 3 Yeates, Rep. 530.

7. It is a rule that the best evidence, or that proof which most certainly exhibits the true state of facts to which it relates, shall be required, and the law rejects secondary or inferior evidence, when it is attempted to be substituted for evidence of a higher or superior nature. This is a rule of policy, grounded upon a reasonable suspicion, that the substitution of inferior for better evidence arises from sinister motives; and an apprehension that the best evidence, if produced, would alter the case to the prejudice of the party. This rule relates not to the measure and quantity of evidence, but to its quality when compared with some other evidence of superior degree. It is not necessary in point of law, to give the fullest proof that every case may admit of. If, for example, there be several eye witnesses to a fact, it may be proved by the testimony of one only.

8. When primary evidence cannot be had, then secondary evidence will be admitted, because then it is the best. But before such evidence can be allowed, it must be clearly made to appear that the superior evidence is not to be had. The person who possesses it must be applied to, whether he be a stranger or the opposite party; in the case of a stranger, a subpoena and attachment, when proper, must be taken out and served; and, in the case of a party, notice to produce such primary evidence must be proved before the secondary evidence will be admitted. 7 Serg. & Rawle, 116; 6 Binn. 228; 4 Binn. R. 295, note; 6 Binn. R. 478; 7 East, R. 66; 8 East, R. 278 3 B. & A. 296; S. C. 5 E. C. L. R. 291.

9. After proof of the due execution of the original, the contents should be proved by a counterpart, if there be one, for this is the next best evidence; and it seems that no evidence of a mere copy is admissible until proof has been given that the counterpart cannot be produced. 6 T. R. 236. If there be no counterpart, a copy may be proved in evidence. by any witness who knows that it is a copy, from having compared it with the original. Bull. N. P. 254; 1 Keb. 117; 6 Binn. R. 234; 2 Taunt. R. 52; 1 Campb. R. 469 8 Mass. R. 273. If there be no copy, the party may produce an abstract, or even give parol evidence of the contents of a deed. 10 Mod. 8; 6 T. R. 556.

10. But it has been decided that there are no degrees in secondary evidence: and when a party has laid the foundation for such evidence, he may prove the contents of a deed by parol, although it appear that an attested copy is in existence. 6 C. & P. 206; 8 Id. 389.

11. - 3. Positive or direct evidence is that which, if believed, establishes the truth of a fact in issue, and does not arise from any presumption. Evidence is direct and positive, when the very facts in dispute are communicated by those who have the actual knowledge of them by means of their senses. 1 Phil. Ev. 116 1 Stark. 19. In one sense, there is but little direct or positive proof, or such proof as is acquired by means of one's own sense, all other evidence is presumptive but, in common acceptation, direct and positive evidence is that which is communicated by one who has actual knowledge of the fact.

12. - 4. Presumptive evidence is that which is not direct, but where, on the contrary, a fact which is not positively known, is presumed or inferred from one or more other facts or circumstances which are known. Vide article Presumption, and Rosc. Civ. Ev. 13; 1 Stark. Ev. 18.

13. - 5. Hearsay, is the evidence of those who relate, not what they know themselves, but what they have heard from others.

14. Such mere recitals or assertions cannot be received in evidence, for many reasons, but principally for the following: first, that the party making such declarations is not on oath and, secondly, because the party against whom it operates, has no opportunity of cross-examination. 1 Phil. Ev. 185. See, for other reasons, 1 Stark. Ev. pt. 1, p. 44. The general rule excluding hearsay evidence, does not apply to those declarations to which the party is privy, or to admissions which he himself has made. See Admissions.

15. Many facts, from their very nature, either absolutely, or usually exclude direct evidence to prove them, being such as are either necessarily or usually, imperceptible by the senses, and therefore incapable of the ordinary means of proof. These are questions of pedigree or relationship, character, prescription, custom, boundary, and the like; as also questions which depend upon the exercise of particular skill and judgment. Such facts, some from their nature, and others from their antiquity, do not admit of the ordinary and direct means of proof by living witnesses; and, consequently, resort must be had to the best means of proof which the nature of the cases afford. See Boundary; Custom; Opinion; Pedigree; Prescription.

16. - 6. Admissions are the declarations which a party by himself, or those who act under his authority, make of the existence of certain facts. Vide Admissions.

17.- §2. The object of evidence is next to be considered. It is to ascertain the truth between the parties. It has been discovered by experience that this is done most certainly by the adoption of the following rules, which are now binding as law: 1. The evidence must be confined to the point in issue. 2. The substance of the issue must be proved, but only the substance is required to be proved. 3. The affirmative of the issue must be proved.

18. - 1. It is a general rule, both in civil and criminal cases, that the evidence shall be confined to the point in issue. Justice and convenience require the observance of this rule, particularly in criminal cases, for when a prisoner is charged with an offence, it is of the utmost importance to him that the facts laid before the jury should consist exclusively of the transaction, which forms the subject of the indictment, and, which alone he has come prepared to answer. 2 Russ. on Cr. 694; 1 Phil. Ev. 166.

19. To this general rule, there are several exceptions, and a variety of cases which do not fall within the rule. 1. In general, evidence of collateral facts is not admissible; but when such a fact is material to the issue joined between the parties, it may be given in evidence; as, for example, in order to prove that the acceptor of a bill knew the payee to be a fictitious person; or that the drawer had general authority from him to fill up bills with the name of a fictitious payee, evidence may be given to show that he had accepted similar bills before they could, from their date, have arrived from the place of date. 2 H. Bl. 288.

20. - 2. When special damage sustained by the plaintiff is not stated in the declaration, it is Dot one of the points in issue, and therefore, evidence of it cannot be received; yet a damage which is the necessary result of the defendant's breach of contract, may be proved, notwithstanding it is not in the declaration. 11 Price's Reports, 19.

21. - 3. In general, evidence of the character of either party to a suit is inadmissible, yet in some cases such evidence may be given. Vide article Cha?-acter.

22. - 4. When evidence incidentally applies to another person or thing not included in the transaction in question, and with regard to whom or to which it is inadmissible; yet if it bear upon the point in issue, it will be re-ceived. 8 Bingh. Rep. 376; S. C. 21 Eng. C. L. R. 325 and see 1 Phil. Ev. 158; 2 East, P. C. 1035; 2 Leach, 985; S. C. 1 New Rep. 92; Russ. & Ry. C. C. 376; 2 Yeates, 114; 9 Conn. Rep. 47.

23. - 5. The acts of others, as in the case of conspirators, may be given in evidence against the prisoner, when referable to the issue; but confessions made by one of several conspirators after the offence has been completed, and when the conspirators no longer act in concert) cannot be received. Vide article Confession, and 10 Pick. 497; 2 Pet. Rep. 364; 2 Brec. R. 269; 3 Serg. & Rawle, 9; 1 Rawle, 362, 458; 2 Leigh's R. 745; 2 Day's Cas. 205; 3 Serg. & Rawle, 220; 3 Pick. 33; 4 Cranch, 75; 2 B. & A. 573-4 S. C. 5. E. C. L. R. 381.

24. - 6. In criminal cases, when the offence is a cumulative one, consisting itself in the commission of a number of acts, evidence of those acts is not only admissible, but essential to support the charge. On an indictment against a defendant for a conspiracy, to cause himself, to be believed a man of large property, for the purpose of defrauding tradesmen after proof of a representation to one tradesman, evidence may therefore be given of a representation to another tradesman at a different time. 1 Campb. Rep. 399; 2 Day's Cas. 205; 1 John. R. 99; 4 Rogers' Rec. 143; 2 Johns. Cas. 193.

25. - 7. To prove the guilty knowledge of a prisoner, with regard to the transaction in question, evidence of other offences of the same kind, committed by the prisoner, though not charged in the indictment, is admissible against him. As in the case where a prisoner had passed a counterfeit dollar, evidence that he had. other counterfeit dollars in his possession is evidence to prove the guilty knowledge. 2 Const. R. 758; Id. 776; 1 Bailey, R. 300; 2 Leigh's R. 745; 1 Wheeler's Cr. Cas. 415; 3 Rogers' Rec. 148; Russ. & Ry. 132; 1 Campb. Rep. 324; 5 Randolph's R. 701.

26. - 2. The substance of the issue joined between the parties must be proved. 1 Phil. Ev. 190. Under this rule will be considered the quantity of evidence required to support particular averments in the declaration or indictment.

27. And, first, of civil cases. 1. It is a fatal variance in a contract, if it appear that a party who ought to have been joined as plaintiff has been omitted. 1 Sauud. 291 b, n.; 2 T. R. 282. But it is no variance to omit a person who might have been joined as defendant, because the non-joinder ought to have been pleaded in abatement. 1 Saund. 291 d, n. 2. The consideration of the contract must be proved but it is not necessary for the plaintiff to set out in his declaration, or prove on the trial, the several parts of a contract consisting of distinct and collateral provisions; it is sufficient to state so much of the contract as contains the entire consideration of the act, and the entire act to be done in virtue of such consideration, including the time, manner, and other circumstances of its performance. 6 East, R. 568; 4 B. & A. 387; 6 E. C. L. R. 455.

28. - Secondly. In criminal cases, it may be laid down, 1. That it is, in general, sufficient to prove what constitutes an offence. It is enough to prove so much of the indictment as shows that the defendant has committed a substantive crime therein specified. 2 Campb. R. 585; 1 Harr. & John. 427. If a man be indicted for robbery, he may be found guilty of larceny, and not guilty of the robbery. 2 Hale, P. C. 302. The offence of which the party is convicted, must, however, be of the same class with that of which he is charged. 1 i Leach, 14; 2 Stra. 1133.

29. - 2. When the intent of the prisoner furnishes one of the ingredients in the offence, and several intents are laid in the indictment, each of which, together with the act done, constitutes an offence, it is sufficient to prove one intent only. 3 Stark. R. 35; 14 E. C. L. R. 154, 163.

30. - 3. When a person or thing, necessary to be mentioned in an indictment, is described with circumstances of greater particularity than is requisite, yet those circumstances must be proved. 3 Rogers' Rec. 77; 3 Day's Cas. 283. For example, if a party be charged with stealing a black horse, the evidence must correspond with the averment, although it was unnecessary to make it. Roscoe's Cr. Ev. 77 4 Ohio, 350.

31. - 4. The name of the prosecutor, or party injured; must be proved as laid, and the rule is the same with reference to the name of a third person introduced into the indictment, as. descriptive of some person or thing.

32. - 5. The affirmative of the issue must be proved. The general rule with regard to the burthen of proving the issue, requires that the party who asserts the, affirmative should prove it. But this rule ceases to operate the moment the presumption of law is thrown into the other scale. When the issue is on the legitimacy of a child therefore, it is incumbent on the party asserting the illegitimacy to prove it. 2 Selw. N. P. 709. Vide Onus Probandi; Presum 2 Gall. R. 485 and 1 McCord, 573.

33. - §3. The consideration of the instruments of evidence will be the subject of this head. These consist of records, private writings, or witnesses.

34. - 1. Records are to be proved by an exemplification, duly authenticated, (Vide Authentication, in all cases where the issue is nul tiel record. In other cases, an examined copy, duly proved, will, in general, be evidence. Foreign laws as proved in the mode pointed out under the article Foreign laws.

35. - 2. Private writings are proved by producing the attesting witness; or in case of his death, absence, or other legal inability to testify, as if, after attesting the paper, he becomes infamous, his handwriting may be proved. When there is no witness to the instrument, it may be proved by the evidence of the handwriting of the party, by a person who has seen him write, or in a course of correspondence has become acquainted with his hand. See Comparison of handwriting, and 5 Binn. R. 349; 10 Serg. & Rawle, 110; 11 Serg. & Rawle, 333 3 W. C. C. R. 31; 11 Serg. & Rawle, 347 6 Serg. & Rawle, 12, 812; 1 Rawle, R. 223; 3 Rawle, R. 312; 1 Ashm. R. 8; 3 Penn. R. 136.

36. Books of original entry, when duly proved, are prima facie evidence of goods sold and delivered, and of work and labor done. Vide original entry.

37. - 3. Proof by witnesses. The testimony of witnesses is called parol evidence, or that which is given viva voce, as contra-distinguished from that which is written or documentary. It is a general rule, that oral evidence shall in no case be received as equivalent to, or as a substitute for, a written instrument, where the latter is required by law; or to give effect to a written instrument which is defective in any particular which by law is essential to its validity; or to contradict, alter or vary a written instrument, either appointed by law, or by the contract of the parties, to be the appropriate and authentic memorial of the particular facts it recites; for by doing so, oral testimony would be admitted to usurp the place of evidence decidedly superior in degree. 1 Serg. & Rawle, 464; Id. 27; Addis. R. 361; 2 Dall. 172; 1 Yeates, 140; 1 Binn. 616; 3 Marsh. Ken. R. 333; 4 Bibb, R. 473; 1 Bibb, R. 271; 11 Mass. R. 30; 13 Mass. R. 443; 3 Conn. 9; 20 Johns. 49; 12 Johns. R. 77; 3 Camp. 57; 1 Esp. C. 53; 1 M. & S. 21; Bunb. 175.

38. But parol evidence is admissible to defeat a written instrument, on the ground of fraud, mistake, &c., or to apply it to its proper subject matter; or, in some instances, as ancillary to such application, to explain the meaning of doubtful terms, or to rebut presumptions arising extrinsically. In these cases, the parol evidence does not usurp the place, or arrogate the authority of, written evidence, but either shows that the instrument ought not to be allowed to operate at all, or is essential in order to give to the instrument its legal effect. 1 Murph. R. 426 4 Desaus. R. 211; 1 Desaus. R. 345 1 Bay, R. 247; 1 Bibb, R. 271 11 Mass. R. 30; see 1 Pet. C. C. R. 85 1 Binn. R. 610; 3 Binn. R. 587: 3 Serg. Rawle, 340; Poth. Obl. Pl. 4, c. 2.

39. - §4. The effect of evidence. Under this head will be considered, 1st. The effect of judgments rendered in the United States, and of records lawfully made in this country; and, 2d. The effect of foreign judgments and laws.

40. - 1. As a general rule, a judgment rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, directly upon the point in issue, is a bar between the same parties: 1 Phil. Ev. 242; and privies in blood, as an heir 3 Mod. 141; or privies in estate 1 Ld. Raym. 730; B. N. P. 232; stand in the same situation. as those they represent; the verdict and judgment may be used for or against them, and is conclusive. Vide Res Judicata.

41. The Constitution of the United States, art. 4, s. 1, declares, that "Full faith and credit shall be given, in each state, to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And congress may, by general laws, prescribe the manner in which Such acts, records and proceedings, shall be proved, and the effect thereof." Vide article Authentication and 7 Cranch, 481; 3 Wheat. R. 234 10 Wheat. R. 469; 17 Mass. R. 546; 9 Cranch, 192; 2 Yeates, 532; 7 Cranch, 408; 3 Bibb's R. 369; 5 Day's R. 563; 2 Marsh. Kty. R. 293.

42. - 2. As to the effect of foreign laws, see article Foreign Laws. For the force and effect of foreign judgments, see article Foreign Judgments. Vide, generally, the Treatises on Evidence, of Gilbert, Phillips, Starkie, Roscoe, Swift, Bentham, Macnally, Peake, Greenleaf, and Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t.; the various Digests, h. t.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
Any species of proof or probative matter, legally presented 8t the trial of an issue, by the act of the parties and through the medium of witnesses, records, documents, concrete objects, etc., for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the court or jury as to their contention. Hotcbklss v. Newton, 10 Ga. 567; State v. Thomas, 50 La. Ann. 148, 23 South. 250; Cook v. New Durham, 64 N. H. 419, 13 Atl. 650; Kring v. Missouri, 107 U. S. 221, 2 Sup. Ct. 443, 27 In Ed. 506; O'Brien v. State, 69 Neb. 691, 96 N. W. 650; Hubbell v. U. S., 15 Ct. Cl. 606; McWilliams v. Rodgers, 56 Ala. 93.

The word "evidence," in legal acceptation, includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved. 1 Greenl. Ev. c. 1, § 1. That which is legally submitted to a jury, to enable them to decide upon the questions in dispute or issue, as pointed out by the pleadings, and distinguished from all comment and arguement, is termed "evidence." 1 Starkie, Ev. pt. 1, § 3.

Synonyms distinguished. The term "evidence" is to be carefully distinguished from its synonyms "proof" and "testimony." "Proof" is the logically sufficient reason for assenting to the truth of a proposition advanced. In its juridical sense it is a term of wide import, and comprehends everything that may be adduced at a trini, within the legal rules, for the purpose of producing conviction in the mind of judge or jury, aside from mere argument; that is, everything that has a probative force intrinsically, and not mereig as a deduction from, or combination' of, original probative facts.

But "evidence" is a narrower term, and includes only such kinds of proof as may be legally presented at a trial, by the act of the parties, and through the aid of such concrete facts as witnesses, records, or other documents. Thus, to urge a presumption of law in support of one's case is adducing proof, but it is not offering evidence. "Testimony," again, is a still more restricted term. It properly means only such evidence as is delivered by a witness on the trial of a cause, either orally or in the form of affidavits or depositions. Thus, an ancient deed, when offered under proper circumstances, is evidence, but it could not strictly be called "testimony." "Belief" is a subjective condition resulting from proof. It is a conviction of the truth of a proposition, existing in the mind, and induced by persuasion, proof, or argument addressed to the judgment.

The bill of exceptions states that all the "testimony" is in the record; but this is not equivalent to a statement that all the "evidence" is in the record. Testimony is one species of evidence. But the word "evidence" is a generic term which includes every species of it. And, in a bill of exceptions, the general term covering all species should be used in the statement as to its embracing the evidence, not the term "testimony," which is satisfied if the bill only contains all of that species of evidence. The statement that all the testimony is in the record may, with reference to judicial records, properly be termed an "affirmative pregnant." Gazette Printing Co. v. Morss, 60 Ind. 157.

The word "proof seems properly to mean anything which serves, either immediately or mediately, to convince the mind of the truth or falsehood of a fact or proposition. It is also applied to the conviction generated in the mind by proof properly so called. The word "evidence" signifies, in its original sense, the state of being evident, i. e., plain, apparent, or notorious. But by an almost peculiar inflection of our language, it is applied to that which tends to render evident or to generate proof. Best, Ev. §§ 10, 11.

Classification. There are many species of evidence, and it is susceptible of being classified on several different principles. The more usual divisions are here subjoined. Evidence is either judicial or extrajudicial. Judicial evidence is the means, sanctioned by law, of ascertaining in a judicial proceeding the truth respecting a question of fact, (Code Civ. Proc. Cal. § 1823 ;) while extrajudicial evidence is that which is used to satisfy private persons as to facts requiring proof.

Evidence is either primary or secondary. Primary evidence is that kind of evidence which, under every possible circumstance, affords the greatest certainty of the fact in question. Thus, a written instrument is itself the best possible evidence of its existence and contents. Secondary evidence is that which is inferior to primary. Thus, a copy of an instrument, or oral evidence of its contents, is secondary evidence of the instrument and contents. Code Civ. Proc. Cal. §§ 1829, 1830. In other words, primary evidence means original or first-hand evidence; the best evidence that the nature of the case admits of; the evidence which is required in the first instance, and which must fail before secondary evidence can be admitted. Thus, an original document la primary evidence; a copy of it would be secondary. That evidence which the nature of the case or question suggests as the proper means of ascertaining the truth. See Cross v. Baskett, 17 Or. 84, 21 Pac. 47; Civ. Code Ga, 1895. § 5164.

Secondary evidence is that species of evidence which becomes admissible, as being the next best, when the primary or best evidence of the fact in question is lost or inaccessible; as when a witness details orally the contents of an instrument which is lost or destroyed. Williams v. Davis, 56 Tex. 253; Baucum v. George, 65 Ala. 259; Roberts v. Dixon, 50 Kan. 436, 31 Pac. 1083.

Evidence is either direct or indirect. Direct evidence is evidence directly proving any matter, as opposed to circumstantial evidence, which is often called "indirect." It is usually conclusive, but, like other evidence, it is fallible, and that on various accounts. It is not to be confounded with primary evidence, as opposed to secondary, although in point of fact it usually is primary. Brown; Com. v. Webster, 5 Cush. (Mass.) 310, 52 Am. Dec. 711; Pease v. Smith, 61 N. Y. 477; State v. Calder, 23 Mont. 504, 59 Pac. 903; People v. Palmer, 11 N. Y. St. Rep. 820; Lake County v. Neilon, 44 Or. 14, 74 Pac. 212.

Indirect evidence is evidence which does not tend directly to prove the controverted fact, but to establish a state of facts, or the existence of other facts, from which it will follow as a logical inference. Inferential evidence as to the fruth of a disputed fact, not by testimony of any witness to the fact, but by collateral circumstances ascertained by competent means. 1 Starkie, Ev. 15. See Code Civ. Proc. Cal. 1903, § 1832; Civ. Code Ga. 1895, § 5143.

Evidence is either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic evidence is that which is derived from a document without anything to explain it. Extrinsic evidence is external evidence, or that which is not contained in the body of an agreement, contract, and the like. Compound and descriptive terms.
See also
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
The means by which alleged facts are proved or disproved. See 31 Cal. 201.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary