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The Appeals Court Looks at Directed Verdicts

Posted on Jun 19, 2014

IN JANUARY 2016 THE SUPREME COURT REVERSED THE COURT OF APPEALS DECISION AND AFFIRMED BENNETT'S CONVICTION. READ ABOUT IT HERE

Back in 2010, police responded to a Spartanburg community center after an alarm indicated an overnight break-in. When they arrived, it was apparent that the center had been burglarized.

Suspicion quickly fell on Kevin Bennett. Police were able to lift a fingerprint belonging to Bennett from a TV in the “community room.” In a nearby computer room, two droplets of blood were found near where a missing television had been located, and laboratory analysis concluded the blood also belonging to Bennett.

At trial, the director of the center testified that Bennett was a frequent visitor who mainly confined himself to the computer lab in the computer room. She also testified that the community room was not open to the public, but it did hold events that members of the public attended, and during business hours the community room was often unlocked.

After the State presented its case, Bennett’s lawyer asked for a directed verdict on all charges, arguing that the mere presence of a fingerprint and blood in the center was not enough for the case to go forward, because the center was a public building and the evidence showed that he often visited the building. The judge denied this request and allowed the case to go forward. The jury ultimately convicted Bennett of burglary in the second degree, petty larceny, and malicious injury to real property.

Bennett appealed his conviction. His lawyers argued before the South Carolina Court of Appeals that the prosecution’s case relied solely on a fingerprint and two small droplets of blood found in a public place, and this circumstantial evidence was not enough for convicting. The Court of Appeals agreed with Bennett and found that the criminal defense attorney’s motion for a directed verdict (or for the case to be dismissed for insufficient evidence) should have been granted.

The Court of Appeals explained its reasoning by admitting the droplets of blood and fingerprint did raise a suspicion about Bennett, but the law in South Carolina requires more than a mere suspicion to allow the prosecution to have a jury determine guilt or innocence.

When one is faced with criminal charges there is much to be weighed well before the person’s charges are ever presented to a jury for a determination of guilt or innocence. This case demonstrates how criminal defense is important. At Holland & Usry, we believe that our criminal justice system, while maybe not perfect, is a great system that deserves our confidence.