Disputes over evidence and whether certain pieces of proof should be put before a jury at trial may seem like complicated legal wrangling or much ado about nothing. The fact of the matter is, however, that decisions about what a jury gets to see and what it doesn’t get to see can mean the difference between conviction or acquittal. Take, for example, a recent case out of the West Virginia Supreme Court in which a jury was allowed to hear about two statements that the accused made to police officers, even though the recordings of those statements had been lost.
Mr. Taneyhill was charged with burglary, petit larceny, conspiracy, and obtaining money by false pretenses, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly stole an Xbox video game system and two Xbox games. As the Court explained, a police officer traced the stolen property back to Ms. Bigelow after the owner found them for sale at a local pawn shop in Bluefield. The officer contacted Ms. Bigelow after finding that she had signed a receipt for the property at the pawn shop. Bigelow later told the officer that she had indeed pawned the Xbox and games, but she said she didn’t know that they were stolen. Bigelow maintained that Taneyhill had asked her to pawn the property.
Taneyhill later waived his right to an attorney and gave a recorded statement to the police in which he said he’d bought the Xbox and games from a friend, Mr. Williams. This recording was later lost, however. After Williams denied being involved in the sale, Taneyhill said in a second statement to the police that he’d traded Williams a half-ounce of marijuana for the Xbox. He also said that he’d told Williams the locations of several residences where he could find the video game system and some games to trade for the weed. Taneyhill waived his right to an attorney before making this statement. An audio/video recording of the statement was again lost.
A circuit court denied Taneyhill’s request to keep evidence related to the two statements out of the record at trial. He was found guilty on the charges and sentenced to six months to two years in jail.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Supreme Court said there was substantial evidence supporting the circuit court decision to deny Taneyhill’s motion to suppress evidence related to his statements. The court said Taneyhill’s claim that he was entitled to copies of the recordings because they could help exonerate him was “purely speculative.” It also noted that there was no reason to believe that the police purposely destroyed or discarded the evidence. Finally, the officer testified at trial based on his written narrative of the two statements, which the Court said was provided to Tanneyhill before trial and which his attorney cross-examined the officer about.
As this case makes clear, evidence issues can make or break a criminal case. It’s important that a person facing criminal charges seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The West Virginia criminal defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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