Last Updated on September 1, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team
The legal system can be a complicated thing to say the least, and there are many terms we hear now and again in our general lives that sound familiar but mean nothing to us.
Class evidence is probably a term you have heard thrown around, particularly on legal dramas, in the newspapers, or just in passing on TV, but it is one of those terms that many people don’t fully understand.
So what exactly is class evidence, and how is it used within legal proceedings?
Class Evidence: The Facts
In essence, class evidence could be seen more as a type of criminal profiling, in that it is evidence used to identify a particular type of assailant, rather than a specific suspect.
Class evidence is especially used in situations where there are a group of people involved, and can be a useful tool in narrowing down the list of potential suspects.
Why Is It Called ‘Class’ Evidence?
The term ‘class’ is, in this case, used to describe evidence which alludes to a specific group of people, or portion of society.
Each piece of evidence at a crime scene might have either class or individual characteristics, and there are several distinct ways of distinguishing between the two, which we will go into a little later on.
The term ‘class’ is also used in the class action lawsuit, wherein multiple accusers pursue legal action against one, individual person. In this sense, as in the sense of class evidence, the term is used to identify multiple participants, be them accusers or suspects.
Examples Of Class Evidence
In an active crime scene, there are many examples of what could be considered class evidence.
These could be single layers of paint, soil, glass fragments that are too small to fit back together, hairs, and natural/manmade fibers.
Other examples might be weapons and ammunition. If a person has been shot or killed, and if the shell casing is intact, then this can point investigators towards the kind of weapon that might have been used, based on the caliber of the bullet.
Blood found at the crime scene would also be considered as class evidence, because while alone it cannot highlight a particular suspect, knowing the blood group can narrow down the search.
When Is It Relevant?
After a crime has been committed, and a crime scene has been established, class evidence is usually gathered in the introductory sweeps of the area – wherein things such as footprints, fibers, hairs, and other objects are collected.
In this way, class evidence is one of the early steps in determining a group of suspects, and is integral in establishing the first steps of an investigation.
How Does It Differ From Other Evidence?
Class evidence differs from other forms of evidence, such as individual, circumstantial, and direct evidence, and is unique in that it forms the basis of a profile, instead of revolving around an individual person.
Class Vs Individual Evidence
When it comes to the differences between class and individual evidence, there are several distinct ways of distinguishing between the two.
Class evidence can be categorized as an object that suggests the involvement of a specific group of people, rather than the individual.
This could be, for example, if horsehair was found at a crime scene, and there happened to be a horse riding school nearby.
While this evidence doesn’t necessarily determine a specific individual, or that anyone from the school was involved, it acts as a useful piece of evidence, and opens up a fresh, potential line of enquiry.
Similar examples could be footprints left at a crime scene – wherein the size of the shoe would be an indicator of a specific type of suspect. This can be used to narrow down a suspect list, and focus the investigation towards types of suspects who are more likely candidates.
Because of the speculative nature of this evidence, many lawyers try to have it thrown out during a case, taking the stance that there is no basis of certainty pertaining to their clients involvement.
Individual evidence is evidence that specifically identifies an individual suspect, or which points strongly to the involvement of a specific person.
Some examples of this could be DNA, fingerprints, handwriting, and other kinds of personal physical evidence.
This evidence is usually considered more viable in a court of law, and is usually far more damning when making a case against an individual.
Class Evidence & The Law
As mentioned, while class evidence can be extremely useful in narrowing down a list of suspects, it doesn’t hold as much weight in a court of law.
Does It Hold Weight?
In legal proceedings, it is possible for class evidence to be thrown out of consideration, due to the speculative nature of it.
Even in situations where the qualities of the specific piece of evidence correlate with the suspect on trial, it is unlikely to hold as much weight as individual evidence pertaining to that individual.
This evidence alone would be unlikely to get the case taken to trial, namely because there isn’t sufficient evidence to link an individual as a suspect.
A legal representative for the suspect who has fallen under the blanket of class evidence would probably suggest there was reasonable doubt – as in, the lack of specific evidence gives any rational person reason enough to doubt the charges placed against the suspect.
Burden Of Proof
In modern legal practices, it is the responsibility of the prosecuting legal body to supply evidence to prove a person’s guilt. This is known as the burden of proof, because the burden of providing evidence falls on them.
This works alongside the notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, in that it is not the job of the accused to prove their innocence, rather the responsibility of the accusers to prove their guilt.
As such, class evidence can work in both favors, as it can indeed be used to suggest that a person could have been in the area of the crime scene, but also is not binding enough to establish that officially.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about class evidence, and its efficacy in establishing a suspect base following a crime.
While this might not establish a specific suspect, it is nonetheless an important part of any investigation, and can be useful in narrowing the search to a specific profile or type of person.