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Circumstantial Evidence Sufficient in Registry Violation

Circumstantial evidence can establish the elements of a crime under Tennessee law and is of no less value than direct evidence in doing so. Either or both may be relied upon by a jury in determining whether the elements of a crime have been proven. The jury decides the weight to be afforded to circumstantial evidence and whether the circumstances are consistent with guilt or inconsistent with innocence. The standard of appellate review is the same, whether the evidence at trial was primarily direct, primarily circumstantial, or a mix of both. In the recent case of State v. Harris, W2013-02310-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 6-12-2014), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a conviction of a sexual offender registry violation where the evidence was partially circumstantial.

The Defendant in the Harris case was subject to reporting requirements under Tennessee's sexual offender registry laws. He failed to report as required in December 2012. He did not contest either of these facts. He did, however, argue that a criminal violation requires that he "knowingly" fail to report and that his failure to report was not knowing, but rather an oversight. He just forgot. In support of his contention that his error was not knowing or intentional, he noted that he had been on the registry for a number of years and had a history of generally reporting as required.

At a bench trial, the evidence established that the Defendant reported in September 2012 and went over the registration requirements with a TBI investigator. The Defendant, at that meeting, acknowledged to the investigator that he understood the reporting requirements and signed a statement that he understood them, which included the months he was supposed to report. Based on the acknowledgement and signed statement, the trial court concluded the Defendant had been aware of the reporting requirements and knowingly failed to report in December 2012. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction.

For more information on the weight of specific circumstantial evidence, contact Hindman & Associates.

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