Insufficient Evidence To Prove Guilt
The defense of insufficient evidence is perhaps the most commonly used defense in a criminal case in America. It is a negative defense, which means that the defendant is asserting by silence or testimony that he did not commit the alleged offense, or that the prosecutor can not prove that he committed the alleged offense.
In other words, insufficient evidence simply means that the prosecutor can not prove the criminal case because there is not enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
Note: Insufficiency of the evidence as a defense is not inconsistent with affirmative defenses. Affirmative defenses are defenses where the defendant admits the act that lead to the criminal charge but concurrently claims that the act that lead to the criminal charge was legally justified. These affirmative defenses include self-defense, defense of others, entrapment, insanity, intoxication, and more. Affirmative and negative defenses may rely on insufficiency of the evidence as a defense. Other defenses include technical defenses such as statute of limitations, double jeopardy, & suppressed evidence.
Exposing the prosecution's insufficient evidence:
Sometimes there is initially enough evidence to prove a prosecutor's case but the damaging evidence is excluded from the district attorney's trial because of some procedural or technical error exposed by the defense attorney.
For example, an alleged confession from the defendant is generally very damaging evidence against a defendant, but if the alleged confession can be shown to be coerced or made with promises of freedom by the arresting officer (very popular) the confession might be excluded from a jury trial or put into a context for a jury so that the jury might give the alleged confession less consideration than the district attorney might have otherwise liked.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt:
Every element of every criminal allegation must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, if a district attorney is trying to prove the crime of of robbery then the district attorney must prove all of the following: 1) the defendant took an item, 2) from another person, 3) with force or fear 4) without consent or legal justification, and 5) without the intent to return to the item. If the district attorney proves only four out of the five elements beyond a reasonable doubt then the defendant is entitled to an acquittal (a not guilty verdict).
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt legally means to have an abiding conviction that the criminal charge is true. This legal definition is sometimes confusing to defendant's and this author believes that proof beyond a reasonable doubt is better defined in these terms: if you, as a juror, have doubt about the defendant's guilt, and you believe that doubt to be reasonable to you, then you must acquit (find the defendant not guilty of the criminal charge).
Proof in the police report alone as sufficient evidence:
As this author is constantly warning: if everything in a police report is to be completely believed we would all be in huge trouble. To promote insufficient evidence, and thereby expose internal flaws in the district attorney's case, the criminal defense attorney must do more than just rely on the stated burden of the prosecutor to prove the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
The reality is that police reports are goal oriented briefs of the officer's interpretation of received evidence. A criminal defense attorney attempting to promote favorable evidence to the accused, and thereby expose the insufficiency of the evidence, will demand receipt of all the evidence...not just the police report synopsis.
All the evidence usually includes the recordings of actual statements by defendants and witnesses, police dispatch recordings, police officer background for misconduct or discipline, catalog recordings (officer to officer recordings during arrest and dispatch), audio and video recordings of all events surrounding the alleged crime scene (including booking photos and recordings), witness' criminal background information, factual circumstance surrounding the statements made at the alleged crime scene, and more.
For example, a police report may state that 'the defendant confessed to the crime;' however, a review of the actual recording of the defendant's statement may show that the defendant was pressured for hours into making incriminating statements after the police misrepresented (with legal authority) the evidence that allegedly supports a conviction. This is usually done in conjunction with promises of a 'slap on the wrist' that will be levied against the defendant when he 'is ready to make' his incriminating statement.
Another example in a domestic violence case might be where the officer tells a witness that 'if you want [the defendant] to be punished, then you have to tell us about how he hurt you.' (suggesting that the alleged victim is in fact hurt and that the defendant is the one who hurt the alleged victim).
The point is that the police report alone rarely tells the whole story and criminal defense attorneys relying on the police report alone to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt have done their clients an injustice and the prosecutors a favor.
Sufficient evidence to prove guilt to a prosecutor should be met by sufficient evidence by the criminal defense attorney to show that the crime has not been proved. This flies in the face of the presumption that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. While theoretically true, if the defendant relies on the stated high burden of the prosecutor to prove his or her case beyond a reasonable doubt, than the defendant is just waiting around to be convicted in most circumstances. Juries generally presume that if the police and prosecutors have put in enough effort into bringing a defendant to trial that he or she is probably guilty of the alleged crime...without hearing a shred of evidence. This is not take anything away from prosecutors who are generally very skilled and effective at their jobs; however, the reality is that without an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney demonstrating the lack of sufficient evidence in the prosecution's case the defendant is usually just waiting around to be another statistic (most district attorneys win their cases or enough criminal charges in a case to consider the case a victory).
An effective, successful, and experienced criminal defense attorney will bring to the defendant's case a proper investigation of all witness and events surrounding the alleged crime; the purpose of which is to expose the insufficiency of the prosecutor's case. If necessary, professional witnesses such as trauma doctors, child psychologist, medical examiners, experts in police procedure, handwriting experts, forensic experts, and more should be produced by the defense attorney to rebut the evidence of the prosecution and to raise a reasonable doubt as to the prosecution's evidence.
Criminal defense attorneys establishing a lack of sufficient evidence in a prosecutor's case will have experience in jury selection, knowing when and what evidence to attempt to include or exclude at trial or before trial, what cross-examination technique works best with what type of trial witnesses, how to properly prepare a defendant or defense witness for testimony, and how to argue the meaning of any testimony or evidence offered at trial.
Insufficient evidence as a defense to crime is not effective where a defense attorney sits back at trial or pretrial negotiations and simply argues that what the prosecutor brought as evidence is not enough. Insufficient evidence is an affirmative attack on the evidence, the prosecution witnesses, and the motive or theory of the prosecution's case.
To show insufficient evidence, or rebut the prosecutor's statement of sufficient evidence in a case, a criminal defense attorney must bring experts (when necessary) and effectively cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses; he or she must effectively direct defense witness and effectively argue the lack of sufficient evidence in the district attorney's case to a jury that is ever-increasing in savvy.
The effective criminal defense attorney must retell the district attorney's story by re-establishing the meaning of evidence, its weight to be considered, and its relevance to the criminal charge; he or she must do this intelligently throughout the entire criminal procedure, including trial, to demonstrate the lack of sufficient evidence in a prosecutor's case.
If you are charged with a crime in California, including any misdemeanor or felony, contact criminal defense attorney Christopher Dorado today. Attorney Dorado is an experienced and successful criminal defense trial attorney.
Attorney Dorado has successfully defended defendant's charged with every type of criminal charge, including successful defense at trial on cases where defendant was charged with kidnapping, rape, attempted rape, sexual battery, assault, murder, child molestation, lewd acts, and false imprisonment (major felonies in California, including "life sentence" cases).
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