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CALCRIM 224. Circumstantial Evidence: Sufficiency of Evidence

224. Circumstantial Evidence: Sufficiency of Evidence

Before you may rely on circumstantial evidence to conclude that a
fact necessary to find the defendant guilty has been proved, you
must be convinced that the People have proved each fact essential
to that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.

Also, before you may rely on circumstantial evidence to find the
defendant guilty, you must be convinced that the only reasonable
conclusion supported by the circumstantial evidence is that the
defendant is guilty. If you can draw two or more reasonable
conclusions from the circumstantial evidence, and one of those
reasonable conclusions points to innocence and another to guilt,
you must accept the one that points to innocence. However, when
considering circumstantial evidence, you must accept only
reasonable conclusions and reject any that are unreasonable.

New January 2006

BENCH NOTES

Instructional Duty
The court has a sua sponte duty to instruct on how to evaluate circumstantial
evidence if the prosecution substantially relies on circumstantial evidence to
establish any element of the case. (People v. Yrigoyen (1955) 45 Cal.2d 46,
49 [286 P.2d 1] [duty exists where circumstantial evidence relied on to prove
any element, including intent]; see People v. Bloyd (1987) 43 Cal.3d 333,
351–352 [233 Cal.Rptr. 368, 729 P.2d 802]; People v. Heishman (1988) 45
Cal.3d 147, 167 [246 Cal.Rptr. 673, 753 P.2d 629].)

There is no sua sponte duty to give this instruction when the circumstantial
evidence is incidental to and corroborative of direct evidence. (People v.
Malbrough (1961) 55 Cal.2d 249, 250–251 [10 Cal.Rptr. 632, 359 P.2d 30];
People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, 831 [299 P.2d 243]; People v. Shea
(1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 1257, 1270–1271 [46 Cal.Rptr.2d 388].) This is so
even when the corroborative circumstantial evidence is essential to the
prosecution’s case, e.g., when corroboration of an accomplice’s testimony is
required under Penal Code section 1111. (People v. Williams (1984) 162
Cal.App.3d 869, 874 [208 Cal.Rptr. 790].)

If intent is the only element proved by circumstantial evidence, do not give
this instruction. Give CALCRIM No. 225, Circumstantial Evidence: Intent or
Mental State. (People v. Marshall (1996) 13 Cal.4th 799, 849 [55 Cal.Rptr.2d
347, 919 P.2d 1280].)

AUTHORITY

• Direct Evidence Defined. Evid. Code, § 410.
• Inference Defined. Evid. Code, § 600(b).
• Between Two Reasonable Interpretations of Circumstantial Evidence,
Accept the One That Points to Innocence. People v. Merkouris (1956)
46 Cal.2d 540, 560–562 [297 P.2d 999] [error to refuse requested
instruction on this point]; People v. Johnson (1958) 163 Cal.App.2d 58,
62 [328 P.2d 809] [sua sponte duty to instruct]; see People v. Wade
(1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 1487, 1492 [46 Cal.Rptr.2d 645].
• Circumstantial Evidence Must Be Entirely Consistent With a Theory of
Guilt and Inconsistent With Any Other Rational Conclusion. People v.
Bender (1945) 27 Cal.2d 164, 175 [163 P.2d 8] [sua sponte duty to
instruct]; People v. Yrigoyen (1955) 45 Cal.2d 46, 49 [286 P.2d 1]
[same].
• Difference Between Direct and Circumstantial Evidence. People v. Lim
Foon (1915) 29 Cal.App. 270, 274 [155 P. 477] [no sua sponte duty to
instruct, but court approves definition]; People v. Goldstein (1956) 139
Cal.App.2d 146, 152–153 [293 P.2d 495] [sua sponte duty to instruct].
• Each Fact in Chain of Circumstantial Evidence Must Be Proved.
People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, 831 [299 P.2d 243] [error to
refuse requested instruction on this point].
• Sua Sponte Duty When Prosecutor’s Case Rests Substantially on
Circumstantial Evidence. People v. Bloyd (1987) 43 Cal.3d 333,
351–352 [233 Cal.Rptr. 368, 729 P.2d 802].
• This Instruction Upheld. People v. Ibarra (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th
1174, 1186–1187 [67 Cal.Rptr.3d 871].
Secondary Sources
1 Witkin & Epstein, California Criminal Law (3d ed. 2000) Elements, § 3.
5 Witkin & Epstein, California Criminal Law (3d ed. 2000) Criminal Trial,
§ 652.
1 Witkin, California Evidence (4th ed. 2000) Circumstantial Evidence, § 117.
4 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 83,
Evidence, § 83.01[2], Ch. 85, Submission to Jury and Verdict, § 85.03[2][a]
(Matthew Bender).

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