inference | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

In a legal context, inference is the act of drawing a conclusion or making a deduction from available evidence and facts.

Inference is a vital part of legal proceedings. Judges and juries often use inference to figure out if a certain fact or event is likely to be true. This decision-making is based on the evidence they hear and see in court. Let’s unpack the concept of inference a bit further, examining how it works in the courtroom, its types, and its importance in legal decisions.

The Use of Inference in Court

In a courtroom, judges and juries listen to the evidence. Evidence might include witness testimonies, documents, photographs, or physical items related to the case. From this evidence, they infer or make educated guesses about what happened. Inference is like piecing together a puzzle. Each piece of evidence is a puzzle piece. Once they have all the pieces, judges and juries can see the whole picture. That complete picture helps them make decisions about the case.

Types of Inferences: Factual and Legal

Now, let’s delve into the types of inferences in law: factual and legal. Factual inferences are conclusions drawn from the evidence of a specific case. Let’s say someone finds a person holding a smoking gun over a body. They might infer that the person committed a crime. That’s a factual inference.

Legal ones are a bit different. These involve applying laws to the facts of a case. Imagine someone agrees to paint a house but never does it. From the contract and the painter’s actions, one might infer that the painter broke the contract. That’s a legal inference.

The Role in Legal Decisions

Inference plays a crucial role in making legal decisions. It’s how judges and juries make sense of the evidence. They weigh the evidence and make informed decisions. This is essential to ensuring that justice is served.


However, these can be challenged, especially if they’re based on speculation or assumptions rather than solid evidence. Let’s say a person is inferred to have committed a crime because they were near the crime scene. But being near a crime scene doesn’t necessarily mean they committed the crime. So, their lawyer might challenge that inference. The aim here is to ensure that only valid, evidence-based inferences influence legal decisions.


In conclusion, inference in law is a crucial tool used by judges and juries to make sense of the evidence and facts presented in court. Whether it’s the factual type drawn from the specifics of a case or legal ones made by applying laws to facts, the process is integral to informed decision-making in the legal system. Nevertheless, it’s important to scrutinize these, ensuring they’re based on substantial evidence and not mere assumptions or speculations. This way, the legal system can achieve its ultimate goal: justice.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/24/2023

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