Criminal trials often hinge on the misunderstanding of causation and correlation. Causation and correlation are relationships that describe how variables respond to specific actions or changes. Cause and effect are the defining elements of causation. It is a relationship between an act or event (cause) and the outcome it produces (effect). The effect is the consequence of the cause.
Correlation, on the other hand, is a connection between two or more variables. It is more indirect than a causal relationship. The act or event might be related to a particular outcome, but it does not mean the outcome was a direct result of the act or event.
The difference can play a vital role in criminal defense
In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove to the court that the accused is guilty. The prosecution must be able to establish that the accused or defendant intentionally behaved unlawfully. They must also prove that the intent correlates to the act. The defendant wanted to hurt someone, and that person sustained injuries. But it still does not mean the defendant committed the crime.
The correlation between crime and intent is not enough. The prosecution must show that someone suffered damages because of the defendant’s intent and wrongful actions. The cause is the intent and the criminal act; the effect is that someone got hurt. However, they would have to be able to prove that a causal relationship exists beyond a reasonable doubt.
A causal relationship is necessary for a conviction
A person could be at a crime scene out of curiosity or dumb luck. They see someone bleeding on the floor and pick up the weapon. Their presence at the crime scene connects them to the crime. They are even holding the weapon, but they did not use it. They did not cause the death or injury to the victim. Although the circumstances are very incriminatory, the prosecution should not be able to convict the innocent person because the evidence is all circumstantial and correlational.
Causation is necessary to convict the person. Correlation is not enough.