The Admissibility of "Consciousness of Guilt"

The general rule on the admissibility of evidence regarding how a defendant acts after an alleged crime was committed is usually that the prosecutor can introduce testimony that tends to show that the defendants actions prove he knew he was guilty (at least of something). This is labeled, at least by prosecutors, as “consciousness of guilt”.

The theory is that since in most criminal trials the prosecutor has the burden of proving the “mens rea” or intent of the defendant, actions he took to “cover up” his alleged crime are relevant. (I say “most trials”, because the state is not required to prove intent in strict liability offenses.)

The New York Times has an article today about legal arguments in former New Jersey Nets star Jayson Williams retrial on reckless manslaughter in the accidental shooting that happened at his house. He was convicted on four charges relating to tampering with the evidence after the shooting in the first trial and acquitted of aggravated manslaughter, but a mistrial was declared on the reckless manslaughter charge he once again faces.

His lawyers argued that evidence of his actions after the shooting should no longer be presented to the jury in his second trial, because it will be more prejudicial than probative. My prediction is that the evidence will be allowed. From the article:

Justice Barry T. Albin questioned how the actions of Mr. Williams, 38, differed from those of someone accused of manslaughter in the case of a hit-and-run accident or any case in which someone flees. “The prosecution always says he fled because he was guilty,” Justice Albin said. “The defense says he was scared. Why shouldn’t that evidence go to the jury?”

This probably would have been a more difficult legal question for the appeals court, if Williams had been acquitted of these charges in the first trial.

(Hat Tip: How Appealing)

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noah - September 18, 2007 11:51 PM

now, if I was pulled over for doing 70 in a 65 on the highway, then pulled out of the car for no reason and interrogated, then my car was torn apart -- searched without a warrant... even though I may have consented due to the K 9 in the police vehicle- would i be guilty of any marijuana found in the vehicle? would the evidence hold up in court? I waived the option for a lawyer and I got deferred adjudification. I am on probation for 2 years and this all happened less than a month ago. Should I get a lawyer and try to overturn my plead?

Donna - January 16, 2008 10:02 PM

This is being used against my son, where the 'initial,' police report (turned over to the defense) contains web monitoring information even after the indictment, showing that my son went onto an online forum and posted his concerns about the case - no admitting guilt or being stupid, just his concerns. And, of course, the actual forensics report - because there WAS NO forensics report, 8 months later has just now been completed and turned in by the police.

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