Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Michigan - Sufficiency of Evidence; Inference on Inference

People v. LaFountain, 495 Mich. 968 (March 28, 2014):

In this case, defendant only disputes whether there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that her operation of a methamphetamine laboratory “involve[d] the possession, placement, or use of a firearm.” ... Contrary to the dissent's suggestion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with “conviction[s] built on inferences derived from circumstantial evidence ....” People v. Hardiman, 466 Mich. 417, 430, 646 N.W.2d 158 (2002). Indeed, it is important for appellate courts to remember that “[i]t is for the trier of fact, not the appellate court, to determine what inferences may be fairly drawn from the evidence and to determine the weight to be accorded those inferences.” Id. at 428, 646 N.W.2d 15.

Judge Viviano, joined by Cavanah and McCormack, dissenting:

I believe the jury's conclusion that the firearms were involved in the drug activity simply because they were nearby and could have been useful was, at best, speculation.Speculation, even based on the reasonable observation that defendant could have used the firearms for defense, is not sufficient to sustain a criminal conviction. For the due process right described in Jackson v. Virginia20 to be meaningful, there must be some point above which the evidence presented at a trial must rise in order to justify rational inferences of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.21[21. To be clear, I do not believe that this Court should resurrect the “no inferences upon inferences” rule that it wisely rejected in People v. Hardiman, 466 Mich. 417, 646 N.W.2d 158 (2002). In that case, we relied heavily on the analysis provided by Professor John Henry Wigmore, and as noted in Wigmore's treatise, the proper question concerning the sufficiency of evidence “is always whether, in view of all patterns of corroborating and contradicting evidence at all levels of all inferential chains, the final [fact to be proved] has been shown to the degree of likelihood required by the applicable standard of persuasion, whatever that may be.” 1A Wigmore, Evidence (Tillers rev.), § 41, p. 1138. In a criminal trial, in which the standard of persuasion is proof beyond a reasonable doubt and an individual's liberty is usually at stake, it is of the utmost importance that reviewing courts enforce the rule that “[j]uries are not permitted to convict a defendant based on speculation or mere suspicion.” United States v. Michel, 446 F.3d 1122, 1127 (C.A.10, 2006).]

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