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Eyewitness absence does not assure acquittal says Fairfax lawyer

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Eyewitness absence is better than the opposite, but does not always assure acquittal, says battle-tested Fairfax criminal lawyer

Eyewitness (EW) absence is common in homicide prosecutions and many other prosecutions, leading the Virginia commonwealth’s attorney’s office to rely heavily on circumstantial evidence and any criminal defendant statements in their effort to pursue a conviction. As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I know that Virginia’s circumstantial evidence appellate caselaw often puts people at high risk to be at a crime scene. For instance, if you are in a home with a corpse, expect to be a possible suspect, and under some circumstances to be at risk of a murder conviction. That is what happened with Laszlo Penter, an allegedly highly verbally abusive husband who was convicted for fatally shooting his wife in the room adjacent to the bathtub where he lay with purportedly self-inflicted wounds. Laszlo did not improve his situation — which had no EW’s — when he blabbered at length about loving his wife but having concerns about how she was handling finances, when neighbors and others confirmed a terribly abusive husband. Laszlo v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Record No. 0971-21-4 (Va. App., Aug. 30, 2022) (unpublished). (Laszlo was convicted by jury before then-Fairfax County, Virginia, Circuit Court Judge Daniel E. Ortiz, who was already on the Virginia Court of Appeals when the appellate court decided Laszlo.

Circumstantial evidence in Virginia must be sufficiently convincing to exclude every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt

In Virginia, circumstantial “evidence must be ‘sufficiently convincing to exclude every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt.’” Laszlo (citation omitted). At the same time, “'[m]erely because [a] defendant’s theory of the case differs from that taken by the Commonwealth does not mean that every reasonable hypothesis consistent with his innocence has not been excluded.’” Laszlo, (quoting Ray v. Virginia, 74 Va. App. 291, 308 (2022). Laszlo rejects the appellant’s claim of prosecutorial failure to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of guilty, saying” “Appellant’s hypothesis of innocence is that [his wife] Donna shot appellant and then shot herself with the firearm that was found in her left hand. We conclude that a rational factfinder could have found that the incriminating evidence rendered this hypothesis unreasonable.” A big problem for Laszlo in his case without an eyewitness, is his hard to swallow claim that while taking a bath he had a medical episode that caused him injury, and that this made him unable to be certain of what and whom caused the injury to him and his wife (while the gun in her fully bloodied hand did look like a poorly staged suicide).

What should I do if I find a corpse or find myself near other evidence of a crime, and no eyewitness?

When a person finds a loved one injured or murdered — with no eyewitness to confirm their innocence (or to falsely accuse them, though) — their first inclination will be to call 911 or other emergency assistance. Just remember that the police and other emergency responders you are dealing with are not there to look out for your best interests. Your words to them can end up being used against you. Beware as well that in your distraught state of mind, you may mis-speak or be misunderstood if speaking frantically. Nothing prevents you from endeavoring to have a criminal defense lawyer’s assistance for communicating with emergency responders upon their arrival, nor from limiting what you say, if you even say anything. Remember your Fifth Amendment Constitutional right to remain silent.

How do I find the right lawyer for me when charged with a Virginia criminal or DUI offense?

This Laszlo no eyewitness case brings up the matter of choosing a lawyer early on when a suspect, which Laszlo did not do, when blabbing with the police even after the date of the homicide. Choosing the right Virginia criminal defense lawyer is a weighty matter. I help make that decision easier with my article here and free webinar here. When you consult with me about a pending criminal case or investigation against you, I will answer your questions and concerns, and provide you options for obtaining favorable results in your case, by my drawing on my three decades of successful experience defending thousands of criminal and DUI defendants.

Fairfax criminal lawyer Jon Katz pursues your best defense when you are accused of a Virginia DUI, misdemeanor or felony offense. No matter whom you hire as your Virginia criminal lawyer, by the time you finish your meeting with Jon, you will be more confident and knowledgeable about your avenues for getting yourself out of your prosecution or investigation pickle as best as possible. Call 703-383-1100 for your free initial in-person consultation with Jon Katz about your case that is pending in court.