On May 28, 2014, the South Carolina Court of Appeals decided State v. Bennett, holding that the trial judge should have directed a verdict of not guilty because the prosecution failed to present substantial circumstantial evidence that would allow the jurors to infer Bennett’s guilt.
The State charged Bennett with burglary of a community center in Spartanburg. Bennett’s fingerprint and blood was found inside the community center. Our Court of Appeals observed, “The evidence undoubtedly placed Bennett at the location where the crime ultimately occurred; however, it is undisputed that Bennett was a frequent to the location prior to the crime” (emphasis original). At most, “the evidence presented merely raised a suspicion that Bennett committed the crimes.”
This case is not very significant from a legal perspective. The Court applied the well-settled standard for directed verdict in cases where the state relies on circumstantial evidence. Of course, this case is extremely important to Bennett who had his freedom restored. His trial and appellate lawyers did an excellent job preserving this issue for review on appeal.
Based on the 2012 appellate case tracking number, Bennett has been waiting approximately two years for vindication – time that can never be reclaimed. In recent years, our appellate courts have vacated a number of convictions based on the failure of the prosecution to present substantial circumstantial evidence that the accused committed the crime. It is disturbing that prosecutors and trial judges are not dismissing these cases and that a citizen’s liberty is deprived until the appellate courts intervene.
Please click this line to read the Court of Appeals Opinion in State v. Bennett. Please click the “circumstantial evidence” tab to read other blog posts considering circumstantial evidence in South Carolina.