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Should circumstantial evidence be the sole basis for a conviction in capital cases?

What is your stand on the use of inferences and presumptions?

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1. Should circumstantial evidence be the sole basis for a conviction in capital cases?

It is controversial and could be argued from either stance, as some people agree while others disagree. Have you given this some thought about where you stand of this topic? It probably depends. For example, if there were a past history of the same offense, and other convictions that were not circumstantially based, then some would argue that circumstantial evidence should be sufficient (see more on this later in the discussion). In contrast, first offense cases, or a past history based solely on circumstantial evidence, should not be sufficient in capital cases, regardless of how compelling the circumstantial evidence or on how many pieces of circumstantial evidence there is as often it is argue that cumulative pieces of evidence makes for a stronger case.

Circumstantial evidence is generally admissible in court unless the connection between the fact and the inference is too weak to be of help in deciding the case http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c342.htm. These opponents would argue that this should not be; and direct evidence and roof is necessary for a conviction in capital cases. This would probably lead to fewer people being wrongfully convicted and sent to death row, for example, only to find out years later (e.g., DNA) that they did not do the crime (see example 2 below). There are a large number of both lifers and death row cases that are indeed not guilty.

However, other's, including the law makers, will argue that circumstantial is indeed sufficient with the right set of circumstances in place. For example, circumstantial evidence is best explained by saying what it is not - it is not direct evidence from a witness who saw or heard something. Circumstantial evidence is a fact that can be used to infer another fact. Indirect evidence that implies something occurred but doesn't directly prove it; proof of one or more facts from which one can find another fact; proof of a chain of facts and circumstances indicating that the person is either guilty or not guilty http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c342.htm.

Example 1: Hypothetical

1. If a man accused of embezzling money from his company had made several big-ticket purchases in cash around the time of the alleged embezzlement that would be circumstantial evidence that he had stolen the money. The law makes no distinction between the weight given to either direct or circumstantial evidence.
2. X is suing his wife, Y, for a divorce, claiming she is having an affair with Z. Z's fingerprints are found on a book in X and Y's bedroom. A judge or jury may infer that Z was in the bedroom. The fingerprints are circumstantial evidence of Z's presence in the bedroom. Circumstantial evidence is usually not as good as direct evidence (an eyewitness saw Z in the bedroom) because it is easy to make the wrong inference - Y may have loaned Z the book and then carried it back to the bedroom herself after getting it back.

As mentioned above, circumstantial evidence is generally admissible in court unless the connection between the fact and the inference is too weak to be of help in deciding the case. Many convictions for various crimes have rested largely on circumstantial evidence. This leads us into the next question about inferences (conclusions) drawn based on ...

Solution Summary

This solution discusses if circumstantial evidence should be the sole basis for a conviction in capital cases. It also discusses the topic of using inferences and presumptions.

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