Florida Criminal Conviction Based on Circumstantial Evidence

Direct vs. Circumstantial Evidence

Can you be convicted based on circumstantial evidence in Florida? It depends. If you have been charged with a crime and you have a question about the evidence against you, the best thing to do is talk to your Jacksonville criminal lawyer about it. Your criminal defense attorney is the best person to answer this question. Circumstantial evidence may result in a conviction in some cases, but it may not in others. This Florida criminal law article will discuss the how circumstantial evidence is used to prove a case in Florida.  In some cases, the state attorney cannot prove the case using circumstantial evidence.

What is Circumstantial Evidence?

“Circumstantial Evidence is also known as indirect evidence. It is distinguished from direct evidence, which, if believed, proves the existence of a particular fact without any inference or presumption required. Circumstantial evidence relates to a series of facts other than the particular fact sought to be proved. The party offering circumstantial evidence argues that this series of facts, by reason and experience, is so closely associated with the fact to be proved that the fact to be proved may be inferred simply from the existence of the circumstantial evidence.” (Legal Dictionary)

Jacksonville Criminal Laws

What is the Florida Law for Direct and Circumstantial Evidence?

Basically, direct evidence alone can prove the fact that the state attorney wants to prove. Let’s use a Jacksonville domestic battery case as an example. A husband and wife are arguing in the front yard. The wife throws a rock at her husband hitting him in the face. The neighbor sees her do this, and he calls the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. The neighbor’s testimony at trial is direct evidence that the battery occurred. The neighbor will state that he saw the woman throw the rock and that the rock hit the husband. This is a battery. An inference does not need to be made if the jury believes the witness’ testimony. We will now change the facts of the case slightly. The husband and wife are arguing in their apartment. No one else is in the apartment to witness the encounter. The next-door neighbor hears the commotion and calls the police. The police arrive and the woman is crying. Her lip is bleeding. This is circumstantial evidence of battery. The officer will testify that he saw a fresh wound on the woman’s lip. By itself, this does not prove domestic battery, but when it is grouped with other evidence, it may be used to show that the battery occurred.

A case can be proven using direct evidence, circumstantial evidence, or both. The prosecution has the burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt. If you have been charged with a crime and go to trial in Jacksonville, the state attorney must prove to the jury that you committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In some cases, the state must prove this to the judge. When a judge is the fact finder instead of a jury, this is known as a bench trial. Jacksonville criminal attorneys normally have a bench trial in minor misdemeanor cases in which jail time will not be a sentencing option. In Jacksonville juvenile criminal court, bench trials are used instead of jury trials.

Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

If an assistant Duval County state attorney takes a case to trial, he or she must have sufficient evidence to convict. If he or she does not, the Jacksonville criminal lawyer will make a motion for judgment of acquittal. This is also referred to as a motion for JOA. The judge may grant or deny the motion for judgment of acquittal based on the evidence, or lack there of. If the judge does not grant the motion for JOA and it should have been granted, the case may be reversed on appeal. Here are a couple of Florida appellate cases that help explain this scenario.

Florida Supreme Court Case

In Boyd v. State, the Supreme Court of Florida explained when a motion for judgment of acquittal should be granted in a case that is wholly based on circumstantial evidence. The Florida Supreme Court stated:

“A trial court should not grant a motion for judgment of acquittal ‘unless the evidence is such that no view which the jury may lawfully take of it favorable to the opposite party can be sustained under the law.’ Lynch v. State, 293 So.2d 44, 45 (Fla.1974). However, a special standard of review applies when a case is based wholly on circumstantial evidence. Darling v. State, 808 So.2d 145, 155 (Fla.2002). In considering a motion for a judgment of acquittal in a circumstantial evidence case, [i]t is the trial judge’s proper task to review the evidence to determine the presence or absence of competent evidence from which the jury could infer guilt to the exclusion of all other inferences…. The state is not required to ‘rebut conclusively every possible variation’ of events which could be inferred from the evidence, but only to introduce competent evidence which is inconsistent with the defendant’s theory of events. See Toole v. State, 472 So.2d 1174, 1176 (Fla.1985). Once that threshold burden is met, it becomes the jury’s duty to determine whether the evidence is sufficient to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Law, 559 So.2d 187, 189 (Fla.1989) (footnote omitted). Thus, if the State’s evidence creates an inconsistency with the defendant’s theory of innocence, the trial court should deny the motion for judgment of acquittal and allow the jury to resolve the inconsistency. Woods v. State, 733 So.2d 980, 985 (Fla.1999).”  Boyd v. State, 910 So. 2d 167, 180-81 (Fla. 2005), as revised on denial of reh’g (June 16, 2005)

Florida First District Court of Appeals Case

Has a Florida appellate court reversed a criminal case based on the fact that the circumstantial evidence was insufficient to lead to a conviction? Yes. An example is a case out of the First District Court of Appeals. The First District includes Jacksonville FL.  In Grandison v. State, the court held:

“The State’s evidence against Grandison was all circumstantial. Viewed in a light most favorable to the State, see generally Kish v. State, 145 So.3d 225, 227 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014), the evidence, and the permissible inferences from the evidence, cannot support a finding of guilt on the three counts at issue.  The State’s evidence fails to connect Grandison to the burglary of the convenience store or to the physical damage to the premises. His only link to the crimes is as the driver of the vehicle that picked up the two men the eyewitness saw outside the convenience store. By itself, that fact does not allow an inference of guilt, and the remaining evidence does not cure the deficiency. The items found in the white Oldsmobile Grandison was driving were not established, by DNA or fingerprint evidence, as having been used in the break-in, contrary to the State’s assertion on appeal. Only one DNA-tested item—a ski mask—tagged Grandison as a possible DNA contributor. But the eyewitness testified he did not see either man at the burglary scene wearing a mask. Taken together, then, the State’s circumstantial evidence is insufficient to place Grandison physically at the convenience store when the burglary and criminal mischief allegedly occurred. Absent an inference of guilt, we need not consider whether the evidence is inconsistent with Grandison’s reasonable hypothesis of innocence.” Grandison v. State, 160 So. 3d 90, 93 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015)

 

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