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EVIDENCE IN A CRIMINAL TRIAL

A criminal trial is all about the evidence. It is the backbone of the prosecution’s case. Evidence of a crime is most often circumstantial. It is unusual for the police and prosecutors to have direct evidence of the crime, especially in those cases that go to trial.

Direct evidence is evidence that is based on facts known to be true to the victim or police. For example, if the police or another witness personally observe the crime in progress or the victim personally knew the person who committed the crime against him or her, that would be direct evidence. If the witness testimony is credible, prosecutors can often secure a conviction based solely on direct evidence although more often there is some circumstantial evidence that supports the direct evidence. Sometimes though, even direct evidence doesn’t stand up. For example, say a defendant is accused of assault by another person. A good criminal defense attorney will do a due diligence investigation to make sure the accuser is telling the truth. Perhaps in that investigation, the attorney learns that the accuser held a grudge against the defendant and there is reasonable suspicion that the allegation of assault was fabricated in order to harm the defendant. Even direct evidence must be reliable and offer facts that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed.

Circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence but evidence that can be used to infer the commission of a crime. While not as reliable as direct evidence, circumstantial evidence is conferred the same weight as direct evidence in a court of law. However, because circumstantial evidence is usually weaker than direct evidence, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to poke holes in the evidence. For example, if Joe Schmo testifies that he saw someone run from the scene of a robbery who matched the defendant’s description, a good defense attorney will question the reliability of Mr. Schmo’s testimony. Perhaps it turns out that Mr. Schmo’s observation occurred in the dark of night in an area without streetlights. Or maybe Mr. Schmo has poor vision and was not wearing his glasses. Circumstantial evidence must be carefully scrutinized for reliability and reasonability.

Within the category of circumstantial evidence is hearsay evidence. Hearsay evidence is admissible in California courts only when it conforms to certain conditions, referred to as hearsay exceptions. Hearsay is testimonial evidence offered by someone who is not a direct witness to the evidence and is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated.  For example, a person who testifies in court that the victim once told him he was afraid of the defendant would in most cases be hearsay.  Hearsay may be admitted under limited statutory exceptions, which will be more fully discussed in a later blog post.  Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg thoroughly understands the complicated rules of hearsay evidence and argues forcefully against its admissibility whenever the prosecution attempts to enter hearsay evidence at trial.

Another important type of evidence at a criminal trial is exculpatory evidence. Exculpatory evidence is evidence that is favorable to the defense. Under the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, the prosecution is required by law to disclose any evidence that is favorable to the defendant, or more specifically, that may tend to exonerate the defendant. It is an unfortunate fact that prosecutors and police don’t always disclose this evidence. Skilled criminal defense attorneys must always be on their toes, and to continue with the metaphor, put the prosecution’s feet to the fire to make sure all exculpatory evidence is provided to the defense.

Not all evidence is admissible in court. The rules of evidence are among the most difficult and complex aspects of a criminal trial. Attorney William Weinberg has practice criminal defense for over 25 years in Orange County. He knows the rules of evidence like the back of his hand and uses this important tool to achieve the best outcome for his clients.

Mr. Weinberg is available for a complimentary consultation to review your case and your options. You may contact him at his Irvine office by calling 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com