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United States v. Atnip

March 3, 1967


Duffy, Senior Circuit Judge and Castle and Cummings, Circuit Judges.

Author: Duffy

DUFFY, Senior Circuit Judge.

The indictment herein charged that on July 24, 1964, at the Rock Island Arsenal, which is within the special territorial jurisdiction of the United States, defendant Atnip took and carried away with intent to steal, a man's diamond ring of a value in excess of $100. The trial was to a jury which returned a verdict of guilty. This is an appeal from the judgment of conviction.

On July 24, 1964, Robert G. Morgan played golf at the Rock Island Golf Club. This Club is entirely within the confines of the Rock Island Arsenal. Exclusive jurisdiction of the confines of the Rock Island Arsenal was ceded to the United States in 1867 by the State of Illinois.

The locker room of the Club is located on the second floor. Upon Morgan's return to the locker room after a shower, he discovered his diamond ring was missing from his locker and that $140 in cash was missing from his wallet.

There was no eyewitness to the theft of the ring and cash. The defendant did not testify in his own behalf. There was no admission of guilt by defendant, nor any confession by him. The testimony offered by the Government was largely circumstantial.

The principal point urged by defendant is that circumstantial evidence in a criminal case, in order to be sufficient to sustain a verdict of guilty, must be completely inconsistent with a conclusion of defendant's innocence. Defendant relies on Epstein v. United States, 6 Cir. (1949) 174 F.2d 754, 769 and cases therein cited. The Court there stated a rule that where the guilt of a defendant depends entirely upon circumstantial evidence, the burden rests upon the Government to prove its case not only beyond a reasonable doubt, but to the exclusion of every reasonable hypothesis of innocence.

If the majority rule was ever as stated in Epstein, it was overruled by the United States Supreme Court in Holland v. United States (1954), 348 U.S. 121, 75 S. Ct. 127, 99 L. Ed. 150, reh. den. 348 U.S. 932, 75 S. Ct. 334, 99 L. Ed. 731. Although this case was primarily concerned with an instruction as to circumstantial evidence, the Supreme Court stated guidelines which we must follow.

In Holland, the Court stated at pages 139-140, 75 S. Ct. at page 137:

"* * * The petitioners assail the refusal of the trial judge to instruct that where the Government's evidence is circumstantial it must be such as to exclude every reasonable hypothesis other than that of guilt. There is some support for this type of instruction in the lower court decisions * * * but the better rule is that where the jury is properly instructed on the standards for reasonable doubt, such an additional instruction on circumstantial evidence is confusing and incorrect * * *.

"Circumstantial evidence in this respect is intrinsically no different from testimonial evidence. Admittedly, circumstantial evidence may in some cases point to a wholly incorrect result. Yet this is equally true of testimonial evidence. In both instances, a jury is asked to weigh the chances that the evidence correctly points to guilt against the possibility of inaccuracy or ambiguous inference. In both, the jury must use its experience with people and events in weighing the probabilities. If the jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, we can require no more."

The instructions in the instant case as to circumstantial evidence complied with the teachings of Holland and were identical with the pertinent instructions in LaBuy, Jury Instructions in Federal Criminal Cases, ยง 6.04 (West Pub. Co. 1965). The correct rule as to circumstantial evidence was stated. There was no error in this respect.

In assessing the sufficiency of the evidence, we view such evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the Government. United States v. Owens, 7 Cir., 346 F.2d 329, cert. den. 382 U.S. 878, 86 S. Ct. 163, 15 L. Ed. 2d 119.

The Government offered proof showing that a ring valued at $150 and currency in the sum of $140 belonging to Robert Morgan were missing from his locker at the Rock Island Golf Club on July 22, 1964; that defendant, although not a member, was seen in the Club on that afternoon by the locker room attendant who noted an unusual white spot in his hair; that two ...

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