The Latin term indicia, which means “signs,” or “indications,” is used to refer to the things that point to a thing as true or factual. For instance, a postmark is indicia that a letter was mailed. Indicia do not have to be such official signs of a thing as a postmark, but can be other facts or items that point to the existence or occurrence of something. To explore this concept, consider the following indicia definition.
Definition of Indicia
- Signs, indications, or circumstances that point to the existence of a certain fact as being probable.
1620-1630 Latin indic(āre) (“to make known”)
What is Indicia
Indicia, plural of the word indicium, refers to physical signs, marks, or occurrences that tend to point to something as true, as existing, or as having occurred. In modern law, indicia is similar to “circumstantial evidence,” which relies on inference to prove a thing true.
As an example of inference, if a man orders only a cup of coffee at the local diner, then leaves a $20 bill as he departs, it can be inferred that he intended the change to be a tip for the waitress. He actions are not proof, as only his testimony could actually prove his intent.
As an example of indicia, a parking stub validated by a dentist’s office would point to a person’s having attended his dental appointment on a particular date. Again, this is not proof, as other facts might prove his claim to be untrue, but the indicia points toward the occurrence.
Probable not Proof
Indicia are things that, regardless of how many exist, only show that a thing is probable – that it probably existed, or that it probably occurred. These things are used to build a roadmap of sorts, pointing to the likely truth of a thing. In the face of such evidence, other facts may be presented that actually prove the thing to be untrue, or at least different from the story as presented.
In the judicial setting, there is a danger in allowing conjecture, a line of indicia, and circumstantial evidence to be presented. Indicia and circumstantial evidence deal in effects, which occur as a result of a cause. Such cause and effect can only be relied upon if the effect can only arise from the specific cause to which it is attributed. In cases where an effect can be achieved by a number of causes, a party to the legal action need only bring up that fact in order to shed doubt.
It is the court’s responsibility to ensure that presentation of indicia, or circumstantial evidence, does not conspire against an innocent person, or mislead a jury, or prejudice the jurors’ minds.
Examples of Indicia
|Fact to Be Proven||Supporting Indicia|
|The defendant stole the goods||* Possession of goods that were recently stolen
* The defendant was in the vicinity of the crime
* The defendant suddenly changed his daily routine
|A partnership exists||* Certificate of partnership
* Letters sent on a business letterhead from the partnership
* Documentation that both individuals put money toward the business endeavor
|Ownership of property||* Deed, title, or other certificate of ownership
* Evidence of a mortgage or deed of trust on the property
* Evidence of interest in the property through assignment or foreclosure
|U.S. Citizenship||* Place of birth
* Current residence address in the U.S.
* Current mailing, in-care-of, or hold mail address in the U.S.
* Current U.S. telephone number
* U.S. bank account that is used regularly
|An item was mailed||* Official postmark on the item
* Officially stamped, return receipt
* Signed certified mail receipt
Indicia Examples in a Firearms Case
In October 1995, a caller – who wished to remain anonymous – called the police in Miami-Dade, Florida, to report that a young black man, standing at a bus stop, was carrying a gun. Officers arrived at the bus stop some time later, where they saw three young black men, “just hanging out.” Other than the supposed anonymous tip – of which there was no recording – there was no reason for the officers to suspect the young men of wrongdoing, or of having firearms. The tip was made by an unknown person, from an unknown location, and did not name a particular person.
The officers focused on one of the young men – 15-year-old J.L. – and frisked him finding a gun in his pocket. J.L. was charged with carrying a concealed firearm without a license, and while underage. J.L.’s attorney made a motion to suppress the gun as evidence in the trial, as it was found during an unlawful search. While the trial court granted the motion, the appellate court reversed that decision. The trail then led to the U.S. Supreme Court – which was tasked with deciding whether an anonymous tip is indicia enough to give probable cause for detaining and searching someone.
The Court, in a unanimous ruling, held that an anonymous tip is not, in itself, sufficient indicia to justify stopping and frisking someone. In it’s official ruling, the Court stated:
“… the officers’ suspicion that J. L. was carrying a weapon arose not from their own observations but solely from a call made from an unknown location by an unknown caller. The tip lacked sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make a Terry stop: It provided no predictive information and therefore left the police without means to test the informant’s knowledge or credibility.” [Emphasis added]
In this example, indicia in the form of an anonymous tip – when taken by itself – is not sufficient grounds to perform a warrantless search.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Circumstantial Evidence – Evidence to relies on inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact.
- Conjecture – An opinion formed on the basis of incomplete information.
- Intent – A resolve to perform an act for a specific purpose; a resolution to use a particular means to a specific end.