Logical Gal and the bias against circumstantial evidence

12 May

circumstantial evidence and cat

Ask 9 out of 10 passers-by and they will most likely maintain that circumstantial evidence is weak.

And maybe one piece is, but I have been learning that there is POWER in the cumulative effect of multiple pieces of circumstantial evidence.

My tutor is a cold-case detective, J. Warner Wallace.  The only cases he works are cold murder cases that date back 10 to 30 years.  There is no date beyond which one cannot be tried for murder in the state of California.  A cold case is one that is old, unresolved and left untouched, gathering dust until someone decides to re-open it.

Detective Wallace recounts in his book about the ultimate cold case, the murder of Jesus Christ, Link to the book available at Amazon, how he has to instruct jurors on the 2 kinds of evidence.  Most Americans have no idea that one can convict a suspect of murder on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone!  But you need a lot of it.

Cold Case Chr - the book

 

Here is a brief primer: There is direct evidence and indirect evidence.

  • Direct is when you have Bob testify that he saw Frank stab the victim
  • Indirect is when you see a bloody knife in Frank’s car, plus blood on Frank’s pants, and you hear Frank threaten the deceased victim.  A

Inferences drawn from multiple pieces of indirect or circumstantial evidence  (think 20-30) can add up to a powerful case against a suspect.  In fact Wallace himself says his ONLY convictions have been in circumstantial cases.

The standard for the burden of proof in such criminal cases is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt‘.

Beyond a reasonable doubt

Wait a minute!  Think about what that phrase actually means – ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.

In order for your doubt to be valid, you have to have a REASON such as:

  • ” I don’t think Frank could have stabbed the victim because the defense showed us a transcribed interview with a restaurant waitress and some colleagues and his ex-wife.  It seems as though Frank was at this very same ex-wife’s birthday party along with his former colleagues at IHOP at the time the victim is purported to have died (as determined by the autopsy)”

But the degree of proof the prosecution must provide is NOT beyond ANY shadow of a doubt.  Doubt and uncertainty are woven into life.  Where does anyone ever  have 100 % certainty?  The confidence the jurors must feel must be such that they can come up with no reasons to infer otherwise than that the suspect committed the murder.

So the next time you hear someone denigrate circumstantial evidence, “Oh, that’s just circumstantial!”, push back gently. Ask: “What’s wrong with circumstantial evidence?”  They probably won’t know how to answer.  Most people tend to parrot, unthinkingly, what they have picked up, floating in the air!

Question:  what beliefs have you absorbed without examining them? 

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