Here, is an excellent case to look at to determine if there is “mere suspicion” or enough evidence to amount to a finding of “guilt” by a jury.

The facts of this matter are quite simple:

Police Officers responded to an alarm at a Community Center (Center).  The Officers observed broken glass, obtained a fingerprint from a Television that was attempted to be removed from a wall, and was able to extract DNA from blood found at the crime scene.  The fingerprint and DNA matched that of the Defendant.  However, the Defendant had been to the Center on previous occasions with permission (before the Center was broke into). Hence, the Defense argues it would be logical to find his DNA and finger print there. The Defendant’s Attorney made a Motion for a Directed Verdict to have the charges dismissed before the jury deliberates over the Defendant’s guilt or innocence.  The Trial Judge denied the motion for a directed verdict and allowed the jury to deliberate on the issue. The jury found the Defendant guilty. The Defendant filed an appeal. The South Carolina Court of Appeals over turned the jury’s finding of guilt because the state presented “only a suspicion of guilt.” Hence, the appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has held that the standard is for the court to view “the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the State.” State v. Butler, 407 S.C. 376, 381, 755 S.E.2d 457, 460 (2014).

The Court does not consider the weight of the evidence but rather the existence or nonexistence of evidence. (State v. Cherry, 361 S.C. 588, 593, 606 S.E.2d 475, 478–79 (2004).

The South Carolina Supreme went on to quote previous cases: “When the evidence submitted raises a mere suspicion that the accused is guilty, a directed verdict should be granted because suspicion implies a belief of guilt based on facts or circumstances which do not amount to proof. State v. Hepburn, 406 S.C. 416, 429, 753 S.E.2d 402, 409 (2013). Nevertheless, a court is not required to find that the evidence infers guilt to the exclusion of any other reasonable hypothesis. State v. Ballenger, 322 S.C. 196, 199, 470 S.E.2d 851, 853 (1996).

The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reaffirmed the Defendant’s conviction because the court’s job is not to weigh the evidence but rather “the existence of the evidence or nonexistence of evidence” (as stated above).

From reading this case, I can clearly see and understand why the South Carolina Court of Appeals believed the trial Judge should have granted the motion for a directed verdict. However, I can see why the trial Judge did not grant the motion for a directed verdict. It was a close case and it highlights just how much pressure is on our judges and lawyers. I would be willing to say that if you were to submit these facts to each of the state’s highest court in this country you would have a number of different outcomes.  Also, it would not surprise me one bit if the facts of this case would be used for a law school examination question because the outcome could be argued either way.

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