854 S.W.2d 403 (Mo. 1993), 74892, State v. Grim

Docket Nº:74892.
Citation:854 S.W.2d 403
Party Name:STATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Robert GRIM, Appellant.
Case Date:May 25, 1993
Court:Supreme Court of Missouri
 
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Page 403

854 S.W.2d 403 (Mo. 1993)

STATE of Missouri, Respondent,

v.

Robert GRIM, Appellant.

No. 74892.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.

May 25, 1993

Page 404

Rehearing Denied June 29, 1993.

Page 405

Deborah Wafer, James S. McKay, St. Louis, for appellant.

William L. Webster, Atty. Gen., Joan F. Gummels, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.

THOMAS, Judge.

Robert Grim was convicted of second degree murder, armed criminal action, and first degree burglary. He appealed his convictions, and the Court of Appeals, Eastern District, reversed, finding the evidence insufficient to support the jury's verdicts. We granted transfer and now decide the case as if on original appeal. Mr. Grim offers four reasons why his convictions should be reversed; we treat each argument in turn and affirm the judgment.

  1. SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

    Mr. Grim first argues that the evidence does not support his convictions. The standard for appellate review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction was stated by this Court in State v. Dulany, 781 S.W.2d 52, 55 (Mo. banc 1989):

    On review, the Court accepts as true all of the evidence favorable to the state, including all favorable inferences drawn from the evidence and disregards all evidence and inferences to the contrary. [Citation omitted.] In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, appellate review is limited to a determination of whether there is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable juror might have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Under this standard, the Court must review the evidence adduced at trial and examine the inferences reasonably supported by that evidence to determine whether the jury's verdict is proper. The Dulany standard echoes the due process standard announced by the United States Supreme Court in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). Missouri might choose to require more evidence to support convictions on appellate review, but due process mandates that all convictions be supported at least to this extent. For the most part, we have not required anything more than the constitutionally required minimum and employ the Dulany standard. One exception, however, has been in cases based upon circumstantial evidence. The State now questions the necessity of this different treatment and asks us to re-examine and reject the circumstantial evidence rule.

    1. The Circumstantial Evidence Rule

      The circumstantial evidence rule originated as a higher standard to which circumstantial evidence cases were held. Because of a basic distrust of criminal convictions based upon circumstantial evidence and nothing more, we required the prosecution in such cases to meet a different burden. The distrust took form in the rule, which was used both as a standard of appellate review and as a jury instruction. In its appellate form the rule was stated: "Where the conviction rests on circumstantial evidence, the facts and circumstances to establish guilt must be consistent with each other, consistent with the guilt of the defendant, and inconsistent with any reasonable theory of his innocence." State v. Pritchett, 327 Mo. 1143, 39 S.W.2d 794, 796-97 (1931). Although this statement of the rule is quite similar to our modern rule, the older cases reveal the distrust of circumstantial evidence and the resulting higher standard.

      Where a chain of circumstances leads up to and establishes a state of fact inconsistent with any theory other than the guilt of the accused, such evidence is entitled to as much weight as any other kind of evidence; but the chain, as it were, must be unbroken, and the facts and circumstances disclosed and relied upon must be irreconcilable with the innocence of the accused in order to justify his conviction.

      Pritchett, 39 S.W.2d at 797 (quoting State v. Morney, 196 Mo. 43, 50, 93 S.W. 1117, 1119 (1906)) (emphasis added in Pritchett ).

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      ). 1

      In more recent years, courts have come to view circumstantial evidence as no different from direct evidence. See, e.g., Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 140, 75 S.Ct. 127, 137, 99 L.Ed. 150 (1954). Missouri courts now apply a more relaxed version of the rule. Specifically, we have retained the language of the traditional standard but continue in the next sentence with a limitation on the rule:

      Where the conviction rests on circumstantial evidence, the facts and circumstances to establish guilt must be consistent with each other, consistent with the guilt of the defendant, and inconsistent with any reasonable theory of his innocence. In such cases, the evidence need not be absolutely conclusive of guilt, nor must the evidence demonstrate the impossibility of innocence.

      E.g., State v. Livingston, 801 S.W.2d 344, 347 (Mo. banc 1990) (emphasis added).

      To withstand scrutiny under the Dulany standard, i.e., the due process minimum, a conviction must be supported by enough evidence that a reasonable juror, taking all evidence in the light most favorable to the State, would be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Under the circumstantial evidence rule, the inquiry would turn to whether there exists a reasonable theory of innocence that is consistent with all of the evidence. The theory need not be so likely that no reasonable person could discount it. At this point, the circumstantial evidence rule provides no more guidance and a reviewing court, or a juror, must simply decide whether the theory presented is reasonable. Confusion as to how likely a theory has to be before it is "reasonable" adds to the overall confusion regarding the rule.

      In a sense, the issue is whether the Dulany standard and the circumstantial evidence rule require a different quantum of evidence to support a conviction. If the two rules lead to identical results in all cases, there is no need to retain the circumstantial evidence rule since it could only lead to confusion to have two rules for one standard. If, on the other hand, the two rules sometimes yield different results in the same case, problems arise. Because the Dulany standard has a constitutional foundation, no conviction can be affirmed when the evidence fails under this test. If the circumstantial evidence rule is interpreted to require less evidence than the Dulany standard, then it will lead to the violation of defendants' constitutional rights and must be rejected. If the circumstantial evidence rule is used to require more evidence than the Dulany standard, we must consider what added quantum of evidence and convincing power is contemplated to overcome "a reasonable theory of innocence," how this differs from the Dulany standard for appellate review and the phrase "beyond a reasonable doubt," and whether the circumstantial evidence rule can be applied consistently and fairly by diverse judges and juries passing upon a wide spectrum of facts and circumstances. Even overcoming these hurdles, we must ask ourselves whether there is any need to hold circumstantial evidence cases to a higher standard.

      No reason remains to perpetuate this different rule. Any societal distrust of circumstantial evidence has long been abandoned. We no longer need to hold circumstantial evidence cases to a higher standard than direct evidence cases. If a jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, so long as the evidence meets the minimal appellate standard required by due process, we need not disturb the result simply because the case depended wholly, mostly, or partially upon circumstantial proof.

      The State urges us to reject the rule because "the overwhelming majority" of jurisdictions have already done so. In fact, many jurisdictions have ceased to follow the rule, including the federal courts. Of course, we do not decide our cases based upon which rule wins favor in the most states. That other courts have reached the same conclusion reinforces our decision but

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      does not require it. Suffice it to say that we are not the first court to reach the issue, nor are we the first to reject the rule. Those interested in the reasoning employed by other courts may find profitable an examination of two recent decisions--one from Ohio, the other from Texas. State v. Jenks, 61 Oh.St.3d 259, 574 N.E.2d 492 (1991); Geesa v. State, 820 S.W.2d 154 (Tex.Crim.App.1991).

      In Jenks, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the circumstantial evidence rule as an instruction to juries and as an appellate standard of sufficiency of the evidence. Jenks, 574 N.E.2d 492. Before doing so, the court reviewed the law of many states and the federal courts. Id. at 498-502. The court then overruled previous decisions that had examined the question and upheld the use of a circumstantial evidence instruction. Id. at 503. Almost as an aside, the court then disposed of the rule as a gauge of sufficiency of the evidence. Id. In reaching its conclusion, the Ohio court noted first that "[c]ircumstantial evidence and direct evidence inherently possess the same probative value.... Hence, we can discern no reason to continue the requirement that circumstantial evidence must be irreconcilable with any reasonable theory of an accused's innocence in order to support a finding of guilt." Id. at 502. Thus, in the court's view, the instruction to the jury was no longer warranted. "Proceeding to consider the proper standard of appellate review, where the evidence is either circumstantial or direct, we conclude that the relevant inquiry on appeal is whether any reasonable trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 503.

      Of similar import is the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision in Geesa, 820 S.W.2d 154. In Texas, the circumstantial evidence instruction had already been rejected in Hankins v. State, 646 S.W.2d 191...

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