Challenging the veracity of witnesses in court, after his murder conviction, is a losing appeal for this defendant. He says the witnesses had a motive to lie and the jury should not have believed them. People v. Rouse, 2014 IL App (1st) 121462 (07/16/2014).
Defendant was a member of a rival gang. The victim was working on a car in an alley. Defendant and codefendants walk up to the victim and shoot him. Defendant is the shooter. His fellow gang members testified against him.
In the appeal, Defendant insists that all the witnesses had a motive to lie. Further, there was no physical evidence linking him to the shooting and the only objective eyewitness, was unable to identify him out of a lineup. Thus, Defendant claims there is reasonable doubt as to his guilt.
Challenging the Veracity of Witnesses in Court
Challenging the veracity of witnesses in court is almost always a losing appeal. Clearly, this is usually not a good argument on appeal.
The court will not substitute its judgment for that of the jury’s. The jury decides the weight to be given to the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses. If there is any rational way the trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime, beyond a reasonable doubt, then the conviction is going to stick.
Defendant argued no reasonable jury could find the codefendants credible because they were also charged with first degree murder.
Court Dismisses Defendant’s Arguments
The court said the testimony of an accomplice must be “cautiously scrutinized on appeal.”
The “inherent weaknesses” of the testimony affects only the weight of the evidence and credibility to be attributed to the witness's testimony. These are matters within the providence of the trier of fact.
The jury knew all this, and knew how the witnesses were connected to the crime. It was not like the information was hidden from them. Defendant’s speculation as to the witnesses’ motives is not evidence.
But What About the Inconsistencies in the Witnesses Statements?
The court was not persuaded by the so called inconsistencies.
Whether minor inconsistencies irreparably undermined the credibility of the State's witnesses is a matter for the jury to decide. In this case, the jury decided that any “inconsistencies” were not a problem.
O.K., But the Judge Showed A Video to the Jury in the Courtroom!
Finally, it was not error to allow the jury to view the surveillance video in the courtroom in the presence of all the parties.
The trial court has discretion to determine whether to grant or deny the jury's request to review evidence or a transcript of witnesses' testimony.
It would have been better to let the jury take the video and the laptop into the jury room. The jury could have been instructed on what was expected of them (like only use a laptop to view the video and use it for nothing else).
We trust the jury to do so much more. But, this is not an error that will lead to a reversal.