Appealing a Jury Verdict Based on the Lack of Evidence

Hypothetical Case

A defendant has been convicted for distribution of a controlled substance The defendant believes the jury should not have convicted and wants to appeal the verdict. Is this wise? What are the chances of winning on appeal? Will an appellate court find there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict?

Review of the Evidence in the “Light Most Favorable to the Government”

When a defendant asserts that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction, the case evidence is reviewed by the Court of Appeals in the light most favorable to the prosecution – the court must ascertain whether a reasonable juror could conclude that the prosecution proved all elements of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Colorado Court of Appeals may not and will not substitute their judgment for that of the jury. They will not reweigh the evidence or challenge the juries’ “read” on the credibility of witnesses. The court may not disregard the testimony of a witness unless it is utterly unbelievable. On the other hand there must be more than a modicum of evidence to prove an each element of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt. The court must make certain that the jury did not speculate, guess, or indulge in conjecture in reaching its guilty verdict.

Almost always, after taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the Colorado Court of Appeals concludes that the evidence presented at trial adequately supports a finding, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant committed the crime as charged.

Another way to view this tet is as follows: When assessing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction, the Colorado Court of Appeals must determine whether a rational fact finder ( a jury or a judge ) could accept the relevant evidence, taken as a whole and in the light most favorable to the prosecution, as substantial and sufficient to support a finding of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Again the prosecution is given the benefit of every inference that reasonably can be drawn from the evidence.

The Colorado Court of Appeals reviews the trial record – de novo – ( all over again – in it’s entirety ) to determine whether the evidence before the jury was sufficient both in quantity and quality to sustain the defendant’s conviction. At the trial, the prosecution has the burden of establishing a prima facie case of guilt through introduction of sufficient evidence.

The Court applies what is called “the substantial evidence test” to determine if the evidence presented to the jury is sufficient to sustain a defendant’s conviction. The substantial evidence test considers “whether the relevant evidence, both direct and circumstantial, when viewed as a whole and in the light most favorable to the prosecution, is substantial and sufficient to support a conclusion by a reasonable mind that the defendant is guilty of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The pertinent question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, a rational jury or judge could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. It does not matter that, if the Colorado Court of Appeals was the trier of fact, they might have reached a different conclusion the court may not serve as a thirteenth juror and determine what specific weight should be accorded to the evidence”).

Reasonable doubt is “a doubt based upon reason and common sense which arises from a fair and rational consideration of all of the evidence, or the lack of evidence It is not a vague, speculative or imaginary doubt” CJI-Crim. 3:04.

Taking a case up to the next court after losing at trial is always an option for an individual who has been convicted of a crime. But one must go into an appeal with their eyes wide open. The higher court will not review the evidence as if they were a second jury. They will defer to the jury’s decision in almost all cases.

Before starting an appeal – know the law and your chances. Contact an experienced and seasoned Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm, call the firm of H. Michael Steinberg.

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