The proverbial smoking gun is not necessary for someone to find themselves in legal trouble. Cases are sometimes built on circumstantial evidence alone. A prosecutor wants direct evidence against a defendant, but many times they attempt to build a narrative based on a collection of circumstantial evidence that convinces a jury to return a guilty verdict.
Strong criminal defense attorneys must effectively counter both direct and circumstantial evidence, including filing motions to keep certain evidence from being introduced in court.
Circumstantial Evidence Leads to Man’s Arrest for Murder
Even the most serious cases can move forward without direct evidence. On Jan. 7, 2021, 39-year-old May “Maya” Millete disappeared. About 10 months later, her husband was charged with the murder. Presumed dead, Maya’s body has not been found.
Circumstantial evidence in the Millete case includes the following:
- Maya’s last phone call was to a divorce attorney.
- Larry Millete did not want a divorce.
- Larry allegedly went to online “spellcasters” for them to cast spells to make her stay in the marriage.
- Court documents said that some of his spell requests included that she break a bone or become incapacitated.
- Security video shows Maya coming home on the afternoon of Jan. 7. There is no video of her leaving.
- Her phone stopped emitting a signal at about 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 8.
- Shortly before 6 a.m., Larry backed his SUV up to the garage at an angle that kept the back of the vehicle out of the security camera’s view. About 45 minutes later, he left with their 4-year-old son.
- Larry was away from home for more than 11 hours. His cell phone was off the entire time.
- Two hours before his return, Millete’s home address was entered into the SUV’s GPS system.
- Her vehicle and valuables remained at the house, and she has not accessed any bank accounts.
Numerous related facts could be interpreted to demonstrate that the Chula Vista mother of three is no longer alive and that the husband had something to do with it. But none of the bulleted allegations listed above establish a direct link between Larry and the death of Maya.
Millete is currently scheduled for a preliminary hearing in the murder case in January 2023. He is jailed without bail.
Circumstantial vs. Direct Evidence
Circumstantial evidence does not directly prove that a defendant committed a crime, but it can be something from which a jury might infer that it did. Direct evidence distinctly links the defendant to the crime.
Examples of direct evidence include the following:
- A defendant’s confession
- Video footage showing the defendant committing the crime
- Eyewitness testimony that the defendant committed the crime
Examples of circumstantial evidence include the following:
- Video footage showing the defendant near the crime scene
- The defendant is in possession of the stolen property
- The defendant’s fingerprints at the crime scene
Convicting someone on only circumstantial evidence is an uphill battle – especially in serious cases like murder. An avalanche of evidence is needed to overcome a murder case with no weapon or body. Circumstantial evidence is only admitted if it is relevant, competent, material, and not outweighed by countervailing considerations.
A Criminal Charge Is Not Evidence of Guilt
In all criminal trials in California, the judge will tell the jury that they cannot infer guilt because a person was arrested, charged, and brought to trial. Jurors are also told that nothing an attorney says should be considered evidence. Facts may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence (sometimes called indirect evidence), or a combination of both. Neither type of evidence is necessarily more reliable or carries greater weight than the other. The verdict is based only on the evidence presented in the trial.
Legal Counsel to Counter Direct & Indirect Evidence
At Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC, our experienced founding started their legal careers as prosecutors. That inside knowledge informs how we structure our defense strategy to best support our clients.
Our first goal is to get charges dropped so our clients never go to trial. If the situation warrants, we also utilize effective negotiations for reduced charges and minimized potential consequences. At trial, we aggressively defend our clients by countering the evidence.
Your future demands the focus and attention of attorneys with more than 200 jury trials. If you are suspected of a crime, contact us right ASAP. Call (949) 251-0330 to schedule a consultation.