What is a Scintilla?

“Scintilla” is a frequently-used legal term that is derived from a Latin word meaning “a spark.”  It is used to describe how much evidence exists in the record to prove a particular fact. 

When a court finds that there is not a scintilla of evidence to prove something that is in dispute, it is describing a quantity of evidence which is insignificantly small.  In Texas law, a scintilla of evidence is the legal equivalent of no evidence at all, so it is said that if the evidence at trial amounts to no more than a mere scintilla, a party has presented insufficient evidence as a matter of law and cannot prevail on its legal claim.

Dictionaries use different words to describe this concept of a scintilla – a “trace,” a “particle,” an “iota” or a “trifle.”  In case law, it is often described as a “mere surmise” or a “mere suspicion,” which is not enough to support a legal finding.

This author prefers to think of it in more whimsical terms – as a “scent-illa” – just a whiff of evidence in the air.

— Bonnie Sudderth, Judge of the 352ndDistrict Court of Tarrant County,Texas

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This entry was posted in Studying for the Texas Bar Exam? Useful Topics, Understanding Basic Legal Concepts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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