This post will answer the following questions on the legal concept of “inferences”:
Legally speaking, what is an “inference” and when can one be drawn?
In legal terminology, an inference is a permissible deduction a person may make from evidence that has been accepted as believable. In other words, inferences are little steps in reasoning in which a person takes some known information, applies his or her experience in life to it, and then draws a conclusion.
An inference may be drawn even if NOT necessary or inescapable, so long as it is reasonable and warranted by the evidence, and all the evidence and reasonable inferences in the case together prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
What are some examples of inferences applied to the legal context?
It is easier to explain the concept of an inference by turning to concrete examples of situations in which an inference may be drawn.
Imagine Person A checks his or her mailbox in the morning before leaving for the day and finds it empty. Then imagine that Person A returns to their home in the evening and finds the mailbox full of mail. In this scenario, it would be reasonable to infer that the mailman delivered the mail while Person A was out for the day. Obviously Person A did not see the mailman deliver the mail, but from the fact that the mailbox was empty in the morning and filled in the evening, anybody can properly I infer that in the interim, the mailman came and delivered the mail.
As another example, imagine Person B’s young son leaves home in the morning with an umbrella, without saying anything. A reasonable person would be able to conclude TWO things from this situation:
Note that in court, it is permissible to use “illustrations” like the previous two examples to explain the concept of inference, as long the illustrations (ALL OF THE FOLLOWING):
Do the subsidiary facts of a case need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt for an inference to be drawn?
Subsidiary facts are further particulars of the basic facts of a situation.
The subsidiary facts of a case do NOT need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt for an inference to be drawn.
Do subsidiary inferences need to be proved in a case beyond a reasonable doubt for those inferences to be drawn?
Subsidiary inferences are further particulars of the basic inferences that can be drawn in a situation.
Subsidiary inferences do NOT need to be proved in a case beyond a reasonable doubt for those inferences to be drawn.
Note that a jury may NOT draw an inference unless they are persuaded of the truth of the inference beyond a reasonable doubt ONLY in the case of an inference that directly establishes an element of the crime in question, and NOT to subsidiary inferences of the chain of reasoning.
What happens if two possible inferences can be drawn in a case on a particular matter?
If the admissible evidence in a case is susceptible to two or more reasonable interpretations (i.e. inferences), the jury is required to adopt that favoring the defendant.
Note that the judge is NOT required to put forward on request that if the evidence sustains either of two inconsistent propositions (i.e. “interpretations”), neither has been established.
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