February 27th, 2007

wood cat

Circumstantial Evidence

This morning, I was in Rochester to argue two cases. When there are a lot of cases on the calendar before mine, I do my best to pay attention to them: it keeps me awake, it's educational on a number of levels, and I'm not going to be able to concentrate on my own case during other people's arguments (I prepare ferociously ahead of time instead). Today, I was rewarded with an interesting set of facts, which I believe went something like this:

Criminal conviction for drug possession. Defendant had jumped out of a still-running car and run through a series of backyards. He was eventually arrested some distance away (I did not hear any of the distances). A bag of drugs was found on the ground near a fence, which defendant had jumped over; the jumping was the only time the pursuing officer lost sight of defendant. It was a cold snowy day, and there were only two sets of footprints in the backyard, defendant's and the officer's. The bag was warm to the touch.

Is that sufficient evidence to convict defendant of possession? Recall that possession must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

(I think one of the justices said it would make an interesting law school test question.)

Then when I got home, I found myself with another circumstantial evidence question, which amused me. The faucet in the back wall of the house was on. A quick call to Chad confirmed that he hadn't left the water running for some reason, so I went out and turned it off. The faucet turned easily, and there were pieces of icicles on the ground around it. I immediately concluded that a falling icicle had hit the faucet in just the right way to turn it on—which is perhaps somewhat more improbable than the case I heard this morning, but since the stakes are so much lower, I am perfectly happy to accept it.

Do you all have any interesting examples of circumstantial evidence? Or want to weigh in on these examples?

(Note to self: find a "lawyerly" icon.)