Sufficiency of the Evidence – Were All Elements of the Crime Proven Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?
In a Pennsylvania criminal case, such as a murder or robbery case, the evidence will be sufficient to support a verdict when the evidence establishes each element of the crimes, beyond a reasonable doubt. If the evidence is contrary to facts, human experience or the laws of nature, it is insufficient. Get more info, visit the Pennsylvania Criminal Appeals & PCRA Law Library.
When a Sufficiency of the Evidence Claim is Raised
Under Rule 606 of Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, a defendant may raise the claim at practically any time during the trial or sentencing. It may also be raised for the first time on appeal. However, if a sufficiency of the evidence claim is raised for the first time on appeal, a defendant must, in his Rule 1925(b) statement, specify the basis of the claim. Specifically, the defendant must identify the elements of the crime(s) upon which the evidence was insufficient. This allows the appellate court to analyze the elements and evidence. PA appeals courts have ruled that failure to specify the unproven elements of the crime(s) per a Rule 1925(b) statement constitutes waiver of the sufficiency issue. Also, it’s important to note that boilerplate language will not cut it.
Rule 606. Challenges to Sufficiency of Evidence.
(A) A defendant may challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction of one or more of the offenses charged in one or more of the following ways:
(1) a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the Commonwealth’s case-in-chief;
(2) a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of all the evidence;
(3) a motion for judgment of acquittal filed within 10 days after the jury has been discharged without agreeing upon a verdict;
(4) a motion for judgment of acquittal made orally immediately after verdict;
(5) a motion for judgment of acquittal made orally before sentencing pursuant to Rule 704(B);
(6) a motion for judgment of acquittal made after sentence is imposed pursuant to Rule 720 (B); or
(7) a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence made on appeal.
(B) A motion for judgment of acquittal shall not constitute an admission of any facts or inferences except for the purpose of deciding the motion. If the motion is made at the close of the Commonwealth’s evidence and is not granted, the defendant may present evidence without having reserved the right to do so, and the case shall otherwise proceed as if the motion had not been made.
(C) If a defendant moves for judgment of acquittal at the close of all the evidence, the court may reserve decision until after the jury returns a guilty verdict or after the jury is discharged without agreeing upon a verdict.
Standard of Review
When reviewing a sufficiency claim in a criminal case, the appellate court will view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, giving the prosecution the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence. The court will then determine whether the evidence was sufficient to allow the jury to find that the prosecution established all the elements of the crime(s) beyond a reasonable doubt.
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