Friday, April 18, 2014

5th Circuit Abandons “Equipoise Rule” for Reviewing Sufficiency of Evidence

When examining the sufficiency of evidence supporting a criminal conviction, the Fifth Circuit no longer refers to the “equipoise rule.”  Vargas-Ocampo defines the “equipoise rule” as requiring reversal of a conviction if the evidence construed in favor of the verdict “gives equal or nearly equal circumstantial support to a theory of guilt and a theory of innocence of the crime charged.”  The majority holds that the “equipoise rule” is not helpful in applying the Supreme Court’s standard prescribed in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979).  Jackson requires a reviewing court to affirm a conviction if, “after viewing the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Applying that standard, the Fifth Circuit affirms Vargas-Ocampo’s conviction.  See previous post for a description of the panel’s decision.

Majority: Jones, Stewart, Jolly, Davis, Smith, Clement, Owen, Southwick, Higginson

Concurring in judgment only: Dennis, Prado, Elrod, Haynes, Graves

Judge King elected not to participate.

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