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Indianapolis Criminal & OWI Lawyers > Blog > Guns > Does The State Need Direct Evidence To Prove Guilt “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt”?

Does The State Need Direct Evidence To Prove Guilt “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt”?


The standard for convicting a person of a criminal offense in Indiana is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Many people ask what this means in practice. Does the prosecution have to produce an eyewitness who saw the defendant commit a crime? Or can you convict based purely on circumstantial evidence?

Indiana Supreme Court Reinstates Convictions in Shooting of 3 People

Here is a recent Indiana Supreme Court decision that offers a practical example of how courts address these questions. In this case, Young v. State, prosecutors charged the defendant with shooting three people, killing one of them, in an alleyway. No eyewitnesses identified the defendant as the shooter. Instead, the prosecution presented several pieces of circumstantial evidence.

The jury found the defendant guilty. An intermediate appeals court reversed the verdict, finding insufficient evidence to support the conviction, but the Supreme Court reinstated the jury’s decision on further appeal. The Supreme Court explained that the prosecution “presented sufficient evidence” to identify the defendant as the shooter even in the absence of any direct evidence, such as an eyewitness identification.

For example, there was surveillance footage placing the defendant at the gas station where the shooting occurred a few minutes before the event. Testimony further established that the defendant knew the victims. There was also footage from another surveillance camera in a nearby alleyway that showed a man tossing a cigarette on the ground and running back towards the gas station. Police recovered a cigarette butt from the alleyway and it contained a DNA sample belonging to the defendant. Finally, police searched the defendant’s phone and search history and found that about a week after the shootings he looked up information on “how to clean and disassemble a Glock .40 caliber gun,” which was the type of gun used in the shootings.

From all this, the Supreme Court said a jury could reasonably infer the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt even if nobody actually identified the defendant as the shooter. The Court noted, however, the jury could have “identified reasonable doubt” from apparent inconsistencies in the same evidence. But it was generally not the role of an appellate court to re-weigh the evidence or second guess the jury’s decision on a non-legal question. The critical point was that a jury can “infer” guilt from circumstantial evidence.

Contact Rigney Law LLC Today

Cases like this illustrate the precarious position that many criminal defendants find themselves in. Some people assume they cannot be convicted absent eyewitness identification or something like a video showing them committing a crime. But in fact many–if not most–criminal prosecutions do not have such evidence. So it is left to circumstantial evidence to make the government’s case.

By working with an experienced Indianapolis gun crime lawyer, you can increase your chances for poking holes in a purely circumstantial case and hopefully create reasonable doubt. At Rigney Law LLC we represent clients in a variety of criminal defense matters. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.



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