Definitions

Documentary evidence

Documentary evidence

Documentary evidence is any evidence introduced at a trial in the form of documents. Although this term is most widely understood to mean writings on paper (such as an invoice, a contract or a will), the term actually include any media by which information can be preserved. Photographs, tape recordings, films, and printed emails are all forms of documentary evidence.

Documentary versus physical evidence

A piece of evidence is not documentary evidence if it is presented for some purpose other than the examination of the contents of the document. For example, if a blood-spattered letter is introduced solely to show that the defendant stabbed the author of the letter from behind as it was being written, then the evidence is physical evidence, not documentary evidence. However, a film of the murder taking place would be documentary evidence (just as a written description of the event from an eyewitness). If the content of that same letter is then introduced to show the motive for the murder, then the evidence would be both physical and documentary.

Authentication

Documentary evidence is subject to specific forms of authentication, usually through the testimony of an eyewitness to the execution of the document, or to the testimony of a witness able to identify the handwriting of the purported author. Documentary evidence is also subject to the best evidence rule, which requires that the original document be produced unless there is a good reason not to do so.

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