Evidence and death

What is circumstantial evidence? A recent appellate decision upheld a district court’s definition that defined it as evidence that tends to prove a disputed fact by proof of other facts. Using reason and experience, you infer from established facts the existence or nonexistence of some other fact. On the other hand, direct evidence is evidence based on personal knowledge or observation that, if true, proves a fact without inference or presumption.

We all like our criminal courts to be run tight and strong, but I worry about death penalty cases that rest on the shaky circumstantial evidence. With death penalty cases, I believe the conviction ought to be largely based on direct evidence, not conjecture and the one-way musings of guilt more appropriate to a couch than a courtroom. There’s plenty of evil in the world and limiting death penalty cases to direct evidence situations isn’t going to put the executioner out of business.

Think of it this way: Just because you ran the boat aground and you like your liquor doesn’t mean you were drunk when you grounded. Or how about this: You partied hard the night after your tug sank, told someone you needed money quick and that you had access to the tug, doesn’t mean you scuttled her. Sure, we can nudge each other and maybe infer that you look pretty good for the crime, but if it’s a death penalty case, I’m not voting “yes” that you should walk the plank.

So what do you think? Do you agree? And again, this isn’t about the death penalty. It’s about what proof is required to sentence someone to death. Underway and making way.


About the author

John K. Fulweiler

John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at john@fulweilerlaw.com . His website is www.saltwaterlaw.com.

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