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Victims of Circumstance

Can you be convicted based solely on circumstantial evidence?

Many people believe that if there are no eyewitnesses to a crime and no DNA evidence then there can be no finding of guilt. That belief is wrong. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to convict someone of a crime even if there is no direct evidence.

Direct evidence is straightforward proof of a fact, like a video of someone’s activity or testimony by a witness about what that witness personally saw or heard happening. Circumstantial evidence is indirect proof of a fact pertaining to direct evidence about one or more other facts.  For example if a witness standing inside a store testifies to seeing another person enter the store holding a soaking wet umbrella, that eyewitness testimony would be circumstantial evidence that it was raining outside.

A recent Pennsylvania case is notable for the conviction of the defendant based solely on circumstantial evidence. Diane McClelland, of Coal Center, PA was convicted by a jury of seven felonies for assisting her husband in a conspiracy to rob their elderly neighbor of more than $200,000 over a two-year period. There were no eyewitn­esses to the theft and subsequent murder of the McClelland’s 92-year-old neighbor, Evelyn Stepko. But the jury found the timeline of events laid out by the prosecution’s chief witness so compelling that they convicted Mrs. McClelland of all the charges against her. The final witness, Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. John Tobin, showed that unexplained deposits of cash into the McClelland’s bank account as well as the purchase of guns, vehicles, real estate and other items were made within days of each burglary reported at Ms. Stepko’s home. The deposits abruptly stopped after Ms. Stepko’s death.

If you have been charged with a crime, you cannot assume that you will escape conviction just because the prosecution has no eyewitnesses to the crime itself or DNA evidence connecting you to the crime scene. Circumstantial evidence can be used to build an effective case for conviction against you. An experienced criminal defense attorney can effectively counter circumstantial evidence by poking holes in the prosecution’s inferences and raising reasonable doubt in the mind of the jury.

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