Most people are used to hearing terms like evidence, proof and hint. Whether it is because we have read them, seen them on television, worked in the legal or expert field or simply because of the general culture these concepts enter into our normal vocabulary, generally being used as synonyms.

However, although similar, these three words refer to different things. They are elements that are very much taken into account, for example, in forensic psychology and, by extension, in the judicial and legal world. Now… what are the differences between hint, evidence and proof and how do you work with them?

Its scope of use

As we have seen, the words clue, evidence and proof can be used in our usual vocabulary, but they are mainly linked to the judicial field. In this aspect, these terms are used to refer to all those elements that serve to establish relationships between specific elements of a case and hypothesize, reconstruct and demonstrate these relationships .

These elements arise from the research of the different professionals investigating the case, and are usually collected from a specific scene or extrapolated from the investigation of the assumptions involved.

But even in the judicial sphere the terms evidence, clue and proof can be misused, there being frequent confusion due to the little delimitation between the different concepts (since the limits can be diffuse depending on the definition given to each one) and to the fact that in many occasions such delimitation has little importance since both the evidence and the clue can become proof in their judicial use.

Differences between hint, proof and evidence

In order to make clear the differences between each of the terms, below you can see the definition of clue, evidence and proof and how they differ from each other.

Hint: what makes us think of something

An indication is considered to be any perceptible element, whether or not it is material, that results or is implied from the scene of a crime and that makes it possible to imagine the existence of a certain circumstance linked to the event or crime under investigation.

For example, the existence of a glass at the scene of a crime, the disappearance of an object that should be present, or the relocation of furniture at the scene may be indications. These are elements that allow one to point in a certain direction, but how and where they point are subject to a certain subjectivity on the part of the investigators.

In fact, police investigation usually begins with the collection of evidence, which, after subsequent analysis, can be used to find evidence.

Evidence: when something proves the existence of a relationship

Evidence is understood as any element that allows to establish, in a clear way, the relationship between two elements found at the scene of the crime. It can be understood as that evidence collected that clearly reflects a relationship with another element. For example, evidence could be fingerprints on a stolen object or traces of blood or other body fluids on a person or object.

While they may not make logical sense or may not correspond to what they seem to indicate at the behavioural level (for example, having a victim’s blood on your clothing does not necessarily mean that the person dressed in it is the perpetrator), it is clear that there is a link (if the blood on the clothing is from a person, that person has been in contact with the crime scene or the victim).

Evidence is usually obtained through analysis of the crime area and the numerous clues found, and objective results are obtained through them.

Test: the element with which one seeks to find the truth

We call evidence all those elements or arguments that are used to prove the truth or falsity of a fact . Thus, evidence is that instrument used to judicially prove a fact and that allows reaching the level of conviction necessary to accept or reject a specific idea or hypothesis.

We can find evidence of two kinds: Indicative or sufficient. We understand by sufficient evidence those that allow to guarantee the implication of the accused and that can be enough to carry out a verdict, being extracted from evidence.

As regards circumstantial evidence, as can be guessed from the name, it is that which comes from indications that are not in themselves decisive. Thus, while they allow for the thought and indication of the guilt or innocence of the accused, their presence is not sufficient to demonstrate the type of involvement of the accused.

Deeper into the differences

While we have discussed what each of these three terms means, it may not be entirely clear how they differ from each other, so a more concrete explanation of the differences between them is needed.

As we have indicated, evidence can be defined as the element with which one intends to prove the truth or falsity of something. Thus, we will talk about evidence whenever we are using a certain evidence or clue for the purpose of proving something. Thus, both clues and evidence can be evidence when they are used judicially.

Evidence and clue, however, are the elements that are mutually exclusive , differing in that while the latter is generally a product or element linked to the crime scene that can point in a certain direction, the evidence can demonstrate per se the existence of a certain reality. Furthermore, while the clue is more subjective and depends to a greater extent on the investigator, the evidence is obtained through the analysis of the indicative elements, which turn out to be objective.

Bibliographic references:

  • Couture, E.J. (1993). Legal Vocabulary. Depalma Editions.
  • Royal Spanish Academy. (2005). Pan-Hispanic Dictionary of Doubts. Association of Spanish Language Academies.
  • Taruffo, M. (2003). Some considerations on the relationship between test and truth. Discussions: Test and Knowledge, 3. Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes: Alicante.