Circumstantial Evidence Must Rebut Any Reasonable Hypothesis of Innocence to Withstand a Motion For Judgment of Dismissal

D.F.J. v. State of Florida, 4D10-1763
May 25, 2011

The Fourth District addressed a juvenile defendant’s appeal of conviction for aggravated battery and robbery with a weapon. The evidence showed that the defendant and codefendant were present in the victim’s backyard, drinking beer with the victim and another man. At some point, the victim was grabbed from behind and struck. He did not witness who grabbed or struck him, although D.F.J. and the codefendant were witnessed fleeing the scene by jumping over a nearby fence. The victim could not identify who of the other three men may have committed the crime.

The defendant made a motion for judgment of dismissal, arguing that the only evidence presented against him showed that he was present at the scene and that he fled. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion. On appeal, the Fourth District agreed with the defendant that the State’s circumstantial evidence failed to exclude the reasonable hypothesis of innocence that the defendant was present at the scene and merely a witness to the crime. The Court cited J.R. v. State, 671 So.2d 278, 279 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996) and held that a motion for judgment of dismissal should be granted in cases where all of the evidence is circumstantial and the State fails to present evidence that excludes every reasonable hypothesis except guilt: “No matter how strongly the circumstantial evidence points toward guilt, the evidence must, nonetheless, rebut any hypothesis of innocence, including that D.F.J. was present at the scene, and was merely a witness to the crime.”

The Court reversed and remanded for dismissal of the charges.