Circumstantial evidence instructions: nevermore?

The Mississippi Supreme Court is considering doing away with circumstantial evidence instructions. The issue has arisen in the case of Burleson v. State.

Charles David Burleson and Jeremy Hughes were charged with capital murder (underlying felony of robbery) in the death of Stephen Holley. The cases were severed and Burleson was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. Although there was no direct evidence, the prosecution managed to convince the trial court that the testimony of Kayla Cartwright (Jeremy’s girlfriend), that she was sitting in a car while Charles and David went in and out of Stephen’s house (supposedly during the time when Stephen must have been murdered) was direct evidence. So, of course, the Court did what the state wanted and refused to give the jury the circumstantial evidence language.

On appeal, Burleson raised the issue of the trial court’s refusal to give the jury the standard circumstantial evidence instruction. On July 1, 2014, the Court asked for additional briefing on “whether this Court should abolish the requirement in ‘circumstantial evidence cases’ that the jury must be instructed that it must exclude every reasonable hypothesis other than that of guilt in order to convict.” They also ask the parties to brief whether such a holding can be applied retroactively in Burleson’s case. The order is signed by C.J. Waller. The other judges on the panel are Justices Lamar and Pierce.

Burleson’s brief

State’s brief

Court’s order requesting additional briefing

Burleson’s supp. brief

2 thoughts on “Circumstantial evidence instructions: nevermore?

  1. If there’s an alternate reasonable hypothesis, then is the guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt?

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