I must admit up front, I’ve never watched an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. So I am only picking on this show because everyone seems to talk about it. CSI and other shows like it are full of amazing crime scene investigators who always find some forensic (scientific) evidence that proves - beyond any shadow of a doubt - who committed a crime.
So, how does this cause problems for me as a criminal defense attorney? Well, your average person is now starting to believe they can only be convicted if prosecutors have forensic evidence like that found on these shows. This can make it hard for any attorney, myself included, to help a client accurately evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case.
In real life, most cases don’t have fingerprints, DNA, blood, tire tracks, footprints or video evidence. Even so, many clients still think they can only be convicted if that kind of evidence is found. That’s just not true! People are convicted of major crimes every day, even when there is no forensic evidence.
Here’s an example: Let’s say a guy named ‘Tom’ calls the police and says, “A green car with the license plate ‘ABC-123’ just backed into my vehicle and drove away.” Now, if you’re the owner of a green car with a license plate that reads, ‘ABC-123,’ you are very likely to be charged with a hit and run.
Many people believe Tom’s claim is just “hearsay” (which is not typically allowed by the courts to be used as evidence), and that the police do not have any actual scientific proof that would lead to a conviction. But that’s not necessarily true, so I want to be clear about this: Eyewitness testimony is absolutely considered proof!
While there is a chance Tom may be lying or mistaken (and that his lie or mistake will be exposed), that does NOT change the fact that Tom’s retelling under oath what he claims to have seen can be used as evidence to convict you.
Also, as I have discussed in a previous post, hearsay in criminal court does not mean what you think it does. In this example“ Tom’s” testimony is not automatically deemed “hearsay.” If a jury believes his testimony and you do indeed drive a green car bearing that particular license plate, a jury can – and probably will - convict you of hit and run.
It’s important to note too, that this problem - a false belief that there MUST be forensic evidence to convict someone - applies to juries as well as to the accused. Every prosecutor has to battle against the jury’s expectation that there will be forensic evidence. Just like many of my clients, those who serve on juries may be looking for scientific proof like fingerprints, DNA, and/or video of the crime. When selecting a jury, many prosecutors will spend time trying to lower the jurors' expectations regarding forensic evidence. Prosecutors will try and make it clear that forensic evidence is not needed to convict someone. Many cases come down to the live testimony of witnesses, police officers and, sometimes, the defendant himself.
Sadly, the legal system is rarely as interesting – or as clear cut - as television and movies would have you believe. That’s why it’s so important for those accused of crimes to hire an experience criminal defense attorney to help them through the legal process. Even when there is no scientific evidence, witnesses can make mistakes, they can lie, and their memories can change over time. Even so, juries often believe what witnesses say, and they CAN and DO convict without any scientific evidence.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, call me at 859-242-3487. I can help!