What is a Motion for Directed Verdict in a Criminal Trial?

As the close of the prosecution’s case, a Defendant can request the court for a directed verdict in his or her favor.  What is a directed verdict?  Michigan Court Rule 6.419 indicates that during a criminal trial the defense or the court on its own  volition can consider after the prosecution rests or after the close of all evidence whether or not the evidence is sufficient to support a conviction.   The standard that the trial Court uses in this determination is to consider whether or not, in the light most favorable to the prosecution, that a rational Judge or jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant is guilty.  See People v Smith-Anthony, 494 Mich 669 (2013).  Hence, if this standard is met, there is a judgment entered in favor of the Defendant without any Judge or jury deliberations.

In a way it seems unfair, because the evidence is considered in the light most favorable to the prosecution even though the Defendant is “presumed innocent”.  Needless to say, these motions are infrequently granted.

I had a jury trial several years ago where my client was charged with assault and battery.  The proof that the prosecution introduced at trial was a hearsay statement  (admitted over objection by the Judge as an excited utterance) from the daughter of the complaining witness that the complaining witness yelled from another room that her boyfriend “David spit on me”.  The complaining witness did not appear at the trial to testify.  In my motion for directed verdict I told the Court that the offense of assault and battery required proof beyond a reasonable doubt of intent.  There are instances where you may speak with someone and spit unintentionally comes from the other person’s mouth (when I was a child there was an expression “say it, don’t spray it”).  The jury in this case would have to speculate, or guess, whether or not the alleged spitting was intentional or accidental which is improper.

The prosecution tried to counter that because the police came out on a domestic violence call concerning a argument between the Defendant and complaining witness, and the statement was made as an excited utterance, there was circumstantial evidence that the spitting was intentional.  . The prosecution argued that the Court is required to draw all reasonable inferences and make credibility choices in support of allowing the jury to consider the issue.  Furthermore, circumstantial evidence, along with direct evidence, is enough for a jury to make a determination.  The prosecution does not have to refute all theories consistent with innocence, and only needs to introduce sufficient evidence to convince a jury despite any contradictory evidence provided by the defense.  See  People v Hardiman, 466 Mich 417  (2002).   In fact, it is difficult to prove another person’s state of mind, and therefore circumstantial evidence is all that is necessary to prove intent.  See  People v Unger, 278 Mich App 210 (2008).

The Court properly corrected its prior error to let the hearsay into the trial to begin with, and granted the motion for directed verdict for the reasons I stated.  If I would have lost the motion for directed verdict it would have been a great appellate issue.  However, based upon the scant evidence produced, it is likely that any jury determination would have been a not guilty verdict.