Vanderbilt Law Review

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Is there a rational theory which serves as a basis for determining the admissibility of circumstantial evidence?

Circumstantial evidence involves the offer in evidence of Fact A for the purpose of having the trier of fact (jury, judge, administrative agency or arbitrator) first believe that Fact A is true, and from it infer the existence or truth of Fact B. Fact B may be one of the ultimate questions of factor propositions raised by the pleadings, or it may be a more remote fact or proposition which when established, again forms the basis for a further inference in the chain of proof toward the ultimate issue. Everyone agrees that in order for Fact A to be admitted in evidence for the purpose of proving the existence of Fact B there must be a logical relation between Fact A and Fact B. Thus, logical relevancy is the basic concept underlying all discussion of the admissibility of circumstantial evidence.' However, it is equally clear that in judicial trials there are many items of circumstantial evidence which are conceded to be logically relevant to a proposition before the court, but which are nevertheless excluded by the judge from the consideration of the trier of fact. Sometimes the exclusion is explained in terms of a lack of sufficient quantity of probative value--that the offered evidence is "too remote." In other instances the exclusion is based upon considerations other than logical relevancy. The result is a substantial difference between logical relevancy and admissibility in the law of Evidence. How is this difference to be determined.

This article is prepared in the belief that in no other phase of the law of Evidence have basic principles been relegated so far to the background. Its purpose is to set forth in a law review article a basic theory which will adequately serve as a rational approach for determining the admissibility of all circumstantial evidence; to discuss the elements involved in this theory and show the peculiar mental processes which must be undertaken by the trial judge in applying it during the course of a trial; and finally to show the application of the theory to a few of the more controversial items of circumstantial evidence in contemporary litigation.

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