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LETTER: Trump, Biden and circumstantial evidence

In his Feb. 1 letter to the Review-Journal, Dennis Ward states that circumstantial evidence “would only be opinion” and could not be used to prove that Donald Trump or Joe Biden “knowingly” took classified documents with the “intent” to retain them.

Contrary to Mr. Ward’s apparent belief, circumstantial evidence differs markedly from opinion evidence. (An example of opinion evidence is when a ballistics expert examines a gun and renders a retrospective opinion about whether a particular bullet was shot from that gun).

Moreover, circumstantial evidence is routinely presented in federal and state court cases nationwide, so that juries can determine by inference whether a person acted knowingly or intentionally.

Generally speaking, “circumstantial evidence” (as contrasted with “direct evidence”) is evidence presented of a fact from which a different fact may reasonably be inferred.

For example, if a person takes documents and says, “These will be nice keepsakes,” that statement is direct evidence of the intent to retain the documents. In contrast, if a person said nothing when taking the documents, but subsequently refuses to return the documents when asked to do so, that refusal is circumstantial evidence from which a jury could reasonably infer that the person “intended” to retain the documents when they were first taken.

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