Deloach v. State

Decision Date20 July 1995
Docket NumberNo. 92-KA-00080-SCT,92-KA-00080-SCT
Citation658 So.2d 875
PartiesJohn DELOACH v. STATE of Mississippi.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Martha W. Lewis, Columbus, for appellant.

Michael C. Moore, Atty. Gen., Jackson, Wayne Snuggs, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jackson, for appellee.

En Banc.

PITTMAN, Justice, for the Court:

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

On November 16, 1989, John Deloach was convicted of the crime of business burglary, pursuant to Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 97-17-33 in the Circuit Court of Lowndes County, Honorable John M. Montgomery presiding. Deloach was sentenced as an habitual offender to serve a term of seven (7) years imprisonment.

Aggrieved, Deloach perfected this appeal and assigns the following as error:

THE COURT ERRED IN OVERRULING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A DIRECTED VERDICT BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY THE STATE WAS INSUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT A CONVICTION IN THAT IT FAILED TO PROVE DEFENDANT GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT AND TO THE EXCLUSION OF EVERY REASONABLE HYPOTHESIS CONSISTENT WITH INNOCENCE.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Don Harding, a vocational director for the Lowndes County School, testified that on or about April 28, 1989, the vocational complex was found burglarized. Damage to the complex included broken glass panes, broken doorknobs, and general vandalism of the school office. The "building and trade" laboratory (hereinafter "B & T Lab"), which is a part of the vocational complex, was also damaged. The door to the B & T Lab was torn apart, and the doorknob was missing. Inside the B & T Lab, there were two vending machines (one drink and one snack) located in a locked storage room. The vending machines were placed in the storage room solely for the use of a night class which had ended two to three weeks prior to the burglary. Deloach was not a student at the school.

Harding was responsible for locking the building, and he had checked the building between 4:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. the night of the burglary. The damage to the vending machines was consistent with damage to other areas of the complex. Harding testified that the lock mechanism of the drink machine was missing, and the door was hanging on the hinges with the changer itself dismantled. Additionally, Harding testified that there was no money in the vending machine changers following the burglary. Harding reported that approximately fifty ($50) dollars was taken from the machines.

Besides the damage to the vending machines, there were keys, other money and tape recorders missing. Vending machines located in the auditorium were also found burglarized.

Richard Jones, an investigator at the time of the incident, testified that he lifted latent prints found on the side of the vending machine located in the B & T Lab. These prints lifted by Jones were turned over to Ron Cook, the head investigator of the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department.

Through Investigator Cook's testimony, various photographs of the crime scene were introduced. Cook turned twenty-two (22) fingerprints and Deloach's fingerprint identification card over to the Mississippi Crime Laboratory. The crime lab results indicated that one palm print taken from the vending machine matched the prints of Deloach.

Ron Smith, an expert in latent fingerprint examination and an employee with the Mississippi Crime Laboratory, testified that the lab results positively matched the latent prints with the known prints of Deloach. Smith called the fingerprint test 100% accurate since no two people have identical fingerprints. However, Jones did not testify as to the expected life of a latent fingerprint or the age of such a print. At the conclusion of Smith's testimony, the State rested its case.

Deloach moved the lower court for a directed verdict, asserting that the proof was insufficient to support a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The court denied this motion. Thereafter, Deloach elected to not testify, and the defense rested without presenting any witnesses.

DISCUSSION OF LAW
DID THE COURT ERR IN OVERRULING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A DIRECTED VERDICT BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY THE STATE WAS INSUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT A CONVICTION IN THAT IT FAILED TO PROVE DEFENDANT GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT AND TO THE EXCLUSION OF EVERY REASONABLE HYPOTHESIS CONSISTENT WITH INNOCENCE?

We will address this issue in two parts.

A. WAS THERE SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO CONVICT THE DEFENDANT?

On appeal, Deloach contends that the only piece of evidence which placed him at the scene of the crime was a latent fingerprint found on a vending machine inside the complex. Deloach asserts that there was no testimony establishing when the fingerprint was placed on the machine and, as such, the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Once the jury has returned a verdict of guilty in a criminal case, we are not at liberty to direct that the defendant be discharged short of a conclusion on our part that from the evidence, taken in the light most favorable to the verdict, no reasonable hypothetical juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty." Williams v. State, 463 So.2d 1064, 1068 (Miss.1985). Today, we conclude that the verdict must be reversed.

"The crime of burglary has two essential elements, the unlawful breaking and entering and the intent to commit some crime once entry has been gained." Murphy v. State, 566 So.2d 1201, 1204 (Miss.1990). Here, the State had the burden of proving that Deloach unlawfully entered the school building and either stole equipment and money from the vending machines or had the intent to steal. In this case, we find the evidence to be entirely circumstantial. "The state [can] rely on circumstantial evidence, but where a case is based wholly on circumstantial evidence, the state must prove [Deloach's] guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and to the exclusion of every reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence." Murphy, 566 So.2d at 1204 (emphasis in original).

In Corbin v. State, 585 So.2d 713 (Miss.1991), this Court reviewed the sufficiency of the evidence of a conviction for burglary. The evidence against the defendant in Corbin included: (1) that a grocery store was burglarized; (2) that an unidentified black male was seen dropping the stolen items; (3) that the fingerprints of the defendant were found on three of the six items recovered and (4) that the items were generally inaccessible to the public during business hours at the grocery store. Id. at 715. We stated, "[t]hese facts, standing alone, do not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [the defendant] was the person who unlawfully entered the [grocery store] with the intent to steal merchandise in that business." Id. at 715. The Court commented that the state "did nothing to focus the possibilities of the fingerprints being concurrent with the robbery." Id. at 715-716.

The Court in deciding Corbin, relied in part on McLain v. State, 198 Miss. 831, 24 So.2d 15 (1945):

In McLain, the defendant was charged and convicted of the larceny of an automobile on the sole basis of his thumb-print being found on the rear-view mirror of the car. This Court, in ruling that appellant's fingerprint, without more, was not sufficient to uphold the conviction, stated:

In the case before us here the sole and only proof against the appellant consists of a thumb-print on the rear-view mirror, which is conclusive evidence of his identity, and that he had been in the car for some purpose; but evidence of identity and of presence alone is not equivalent to evidence of guilt of a particular crime, especially where several crimes could have been committed as to this car, but as to which a certain charge was made. The thumb-print here was not declaratory, as stated supra, of the nature of the crime, since it was not aided by other evidence identifying the particular crime, and did not exclude other crimes.

No witness testified to having seen appellant in Clarksdale on the night the car was stolen, or on the day it was recovered; and, as stated, there is no evidence in the record of any kind as to when, or under what circumstances, this print was made on the rear-view mirror.

Corbin, 585 So.2d at 716 (quoting McLain, 198 Miss. at 836-37, 24 So.2d at 16) (emphasis added in Corbin ) ]. Finally, this Court stated conclusively that "[f]ingerprint evidence as the sole and only proof of guilt is insufficient" and "must be coupled with some other evidence, especially so when the fingerprint was not found at the crime scene but on some object away from the scene." Corbin, 585 So.2d at 716. 1 This court reversed and rendered in both Corbin and McLain.

The case now before the Court is analogous to Corbin and McLain in the following ways: (1) the evidence presented established that Deloach only had access to the machine at some point in time; (2) there was no testimony which placed Deloach in the vicinity of the building; and (3) there was no evidence of any amounts of money found on or with Deloach.

"That the only evidence supporting a conviction is circumstantial does not mean the evidence is insufficient." Walton v. State, 642 So.2d 930, 932 (Miss.1994). "[F]ingerprint evidence, coupled with evidence of other circumstances tending to reasonably exclude the hypothesis that the print was impressed at a time other than that of the crime, will be sufficient to support a conviction." Wooten v. State, 513 So.2d 1251, 1252 (Miss.1987). However, we do not find that the State met its burden in this instance. The State failed to address the very reasonable hypothesis that Deloach placed his palm print on the vending machine during a time when he had lawful access to the machine. There was no witness presented to testify that Deloach was seen in the vicinity of the complex. The State relies on the inference that if Deloach ever had access to the machines then it was necessarily at the time of the burglary. There was no testimony presented as to Deloach's motive for the...

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  • Wooten v. State
    • United States
    • Mississippi Court of Appeals
    • February 6, 2001
    ...hypothesis inconsistent with guilt of the crime charged." Shields v. State, 702 So.2d 380, 382 (Miss.1997) citing Deloach v. State, 658 So.2d 875, 876 (Miss.1995). See also Murphy v. State, 566 So.2d 1201, 1204 (Miss. 1990). We hold that the evidence was sufficient to support the ¶ 19. As p......
  • Gardner v. State, No. 1999-KA-01759-COA.
    • United States
    • Mississippi Court of Appeals
    • February 20, 2001
    ...hypothesis inconsistent with guilt of the crime charged." Shields v. State, 702 So.2d 380, 382 (Miss.1997) (citing Deloach v. State, 658 So.2d 875, 876 (Miss.1995)). See also Murphy v. State, 566 So.2d 1201, 1204 (Miss.1990). We hold that the evidence was more than sufficient to support the......
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    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • February 27, 1997
    ...reasonably conclude that the evidence excludes every reasonable hypothesis inconsistent with guilt of the crime charged. Deloach v. State, 658 So.2d 875, 876 (Miss.1995); Murphy, 566 So.2d at 1204; Vick v. United States, 216 F.2d 228 (5th Cir.1954). Put another way, "[i]f the evidence viewe......
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    • February 11, 1999
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