West Virginia criminal cases often involve two types of evidence: direct and circumstantial. As its name suggests, direct evidence is the kind that proves a fact directly and by itself. Camera footage of Mr. Smith robbing a liquor store is direct evidence that Mr. Smith robbed the liquor store. Circumstantial evidence doesn’t directly prove the fact in question. Instead, it proves other facts from which a judge or jury may infer the fact in question. A witness testifying that she saw Mr. Smith walk out of the liquor store with a gun in one hand and a big wad of cash in the other may be circumstantial evidence in the case against him.
A criminal conviction can be based on either direct or circumstantial evidence. Just ask the state Supreme Court, which recently upheld a conviction based almost entirely on circumstantial proof.
Mr. Breckenridge and Mr. Cook were indicted in 2004 on one count of conspiracy to commit a felony, one count of breaking and entering, and one count of grand larceny. The charges related to an incident in which more than $22,000 in cash and checks vanished from a Kroger grocery store in Smithers. Breckenridge was convicted following a separate trial.
Video evidence established that Breckenridge was working in the store on the night of the incident, that he knew where the money drop box was located, and that he went to a back area of the store where he wasn’t authorized to be, opened a back door that had been locked, and then examined the door from the outside after exiting the front of the store at the end of the night. It also established that a person wearing a mask entered the back door with no hesitation later the same night and used a hammer to open the drop box. Breckenridge was in a car with Cook that was pulled over for speeding seven miles away from the store roughly 12 minutes after the crime took place. The officer who pulled the car over said both men appeared nervous.
Upholding the conviction on appeal, the state Supreme Court said the evidence was enough to put Breckenridge behind bars. “[I]t is clear that the fact the State relied wholly on circumstantial evidence in the present matter does not mean the evidence was insufficient to support petitioner’s conviction,” the Court said. While Breckenridge denied propping the back door open, and there was no evidence directly showing that he’d done it, the Court said the other evidence was enough for the jury to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of participating in the crime.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in West Virginia, you should 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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