A common question posed to our Criminal Defense attorneys is whether the police need physical evidence, including fingerprints, DNA or videos, to convict a defendant for a crime. The short answer is no, the police can convict you with nothing more than their own story about what you did. In many cases, the only evidence that the police officers have is what the police officers themselves witnessed, and perhaps what a defendant told those police officers. In other words, a cop’s word is enough to convict you if it is believed.
Under Pennsylvania law, the prosecution can generally get a conviction with nothing more than a police officer’s testimony as to what they saw, smelled or heard. Of course, what they testify to must be sufficient to convict someone for the crime. In other words, if can’t simply be a police officer’s opinion. However, if they saw someone committing a crime, or if the defendant confessed to them that they’ve committed a crime, that’s generally enough, if believed, for a jury to convict and a court to uphold such a conviction.
The increasing number of videos available when crimes are alleged to have been committed have raised an assumption in many people’s minds that the lack of video evidence is significant. Here’s an example: If you come out of a store and the police officer says he saw you stealing something while inside, we generally expect that there will be surveillance footage. If there’s not, that is an argument that can be raised to the jury. Why was no footage produced if it happened in a store where surveillance cameras should be running? Similarly, once a fight breaks out in the street, there are usually at least a few bystanders who pull out cellphones to record it. If no recordings come forth, there’s a question about whether that fight really occurred.
But of course, video is not required to take a case to a jury, and a jury can believe the police officer’s story. This is why physical evidence isn’t strictly necessary.
Talking to the police is dangerous, and as we’ve discussed in other articles, it’s important not to talk to the police when you’ve been accused of a crime. Doing so can almost always hurt you and it can almost never help.
If you’ve been charged with a crime and you have questions about how best to defend yourself, contact our office today to talk to one of our experienced Criminal Defense attorneys. Our attorneys help people throughout Pennsylvania, and we’re happy to help you with your charges.