Monday, December 4, 2017

Ithaca DWI Lawyer: The Power of Circumstantial Evidence

Often there is NO direct evidence of guilt
The jury acquittal in a recent murder trial out of California (People v. Jose Garcia Zarate) shocked the nation. But delving into the facts of the case and what the defense was within the evidence revealed a bigger truth. When a prosecutor uses circumstantial evidence to prove guilt any and all reasonable explanations of innocence weigh in favor of the accused.

California's circumstantial evidence law favors the innocent, does New York law follow?

Does New York circumstantial evidence law clearly help those on trial? 

First and foremost, this case is a tragedy. A beautiful young woman was shot and died. But the big question is this: Did this man intentionally kill this woman?

The facts of many criminal case rarely have direct evidence of guilt. In this type of case, no one saw or videoed (there was surveillance video but it was not definitive) this man shoot a gun directly at this woman.

In this case the evidence just didn't point to a murder or even an intentional act:

  • We have a gun going off far away from this woman who is standing on a pier.
  • The bullet first struck the pier’s concrete 12 to 15 feet from Garcia Zarate, then bounced and traveled 78 more feet to strike Steinle in the back 
  • We have a homeless, undocumented immigrant with a history of drug use and deportation (this is inadmissible under the rules of evidence).
  • We have no evidence he brought the gun to the pier.
  • Finally, we have no motive for this man to shoot this woman on this pier in San Francisco.

California circumstantial evidence law reads:

Jurors are instructed that if they “can draw two or more reasonable conclusions from the circumstantial evidence, and one of those reasonable conclusions points to innocence and another to guilt, you must accept the one that points to innocence."

In New York our circumstantial evidence law reads:

Again, "it must appear that the inference of guilt is the only one that can fairly and reasonably be drawn from the facts, and that the evidence excludes beyond a reasonable doubt every reasonable hypothesis of innocence.

If there is a reasonable hypothesis from the proven facts consistent with the defendant's innocence, then you must find the defendant not guilty..

A Finding of NOT Guilty is Encouraged by Only Having Circumstantial Evidence

Both NYS and CA both have Reasonable conclusions OR reasonable hypothesis = Reasonable explanations for innocence instead of guilt. These both are in the accused favor if there are more than one explanation and not direct evidence of guilt.  

Could the jury have considered a negligent act?

The jury most certainly could have returned a verdict of guilt if they chose involuntary manslaughter, which would require only evidence that Garcia Zarate caused Steinle’s death with an unlawful, negligent act. Firing that gun off close to a crowd of people.

But the prosecution chose to pursue intentional acts and not negligent ones in all their arguments to the jurors. The jurors took six days to come back with a not guilty verdict in this case, so this was not a hasty decision.

Lawrence Newman is a partner in Newman and Cyr which focuses on DWI and criminal defense in the Fingerlakes region of New York State. contact

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