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|Part of the common law series|
|Types of evidence|
|Hearsay and exceptions|
|Other common law areas|
Real evidence, material evidence, or physical evidence is any material object that plays some actual role in the matter that gave rise to the litigation, introduced in a trial, intended to prove a fact in issue based on the object's demonstrable physical characteristics. Physical evidence can conceivably include all or part of any object.
Trace evidence, such as fingerprints, glove prints and firearm residue, is also a type of real evidence. Real evidence is usually reported upon by an expert witness with appropriate qualifications to give an opinion. This normally means a forensic scientist or one qualified in forensic engineering.
In a murder trial for example (or a civil trial for assault), the physical evidence might include biological evidence such as DNA left by the attacker on the victim's body, the body itself, the weapon used, pieces of carpet spattered with blood, or casts of footprints or tire prints found at the scene of the crime.
Admission of real evidence requires authentication, demonstration of relevance, and a showing that the object is in "the same or substantially the same condition" now as it was on the relevant date. An object of real evidence is authenticated through witness statements or by circumstantial evidence called the chain of custody.
Physical and documentary evidence
Evidence that conveys in a different form the same information that would be conveyed by a piece of physical evidence is not itself physical evidence. For example, a diagram comparing a defective part to one that was properly made is documentary evidence—only the actual part, or a replica of the actual part, would be physical evidence. Similarly, a film of a murder taking place would not be physical evidence (unless it was introduced to show that the victims blood had splattered on the film), but documentary evidence (as with a written description of the event from an eyewitness).
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