EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

In Need of Backup: Charged Dropped Against TN Man Based on Corroboration Rule

Accoring to an article from the Johnson City Press,

A Kingsport man accused of being part of a scheme to steal a woman’s $500,000 inheritance was acquitted of his charge Monday after a judge ruled there was not sufficient evidence for a jury to deliberate on the case.

Roscoe Phillips, 25, went to trial Monday on a charge of theft over $60,000, but because the state had little more than two accomplices’ testimony, Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street granted a motion for acquittal.  

Defense attorney Matt King made that motion after the state rested its case. King argued that the women, Pamela Perkey and Wendi Buckingham, were accomplices in the theft. According to the rules of evidence, testimony from an accomplice cannot be the basis for a conviction.    

So, what is the relevant rule of evidence, and what does it mean about the other evidence of guilt presented by the prosecution?

According to State v. Hawkins, 2014 WL 1571810 (Tenn.Crim.App. 2014), "convictions may not be based solely upon the uncorroborated testimony of accomplices." This is known as the "corroboration rule." But how much corroboration is required? According to Hawkins, the answer is "not much." Specifically,

Tennessee law requires only a modicum of evidence in order to sufficiently corroborate such testimony....More specifically, precedent provides that:  

The rule of corroboration as applied and used in this State is that there must be some evidence independent of the testimony of the accomplice. The corroborating evidence must connect, or tend to connect the defendant with the commission of the crime charged; and, furthermore, the tendency of the corroborative evidence to connect the defendant must be independent of any testimony of the accomplice. The corroborative evidence must[,] of its own force, independently of the accomplice's testimony, tend to connect the defendant with the commission of the crime....

In addition, our courts have stated that:  

The evidence corroborating the testimony of an accomplice may consist of direct evidence, circumstantial evidence, or a combination of direct and circumstantial evidence. The quantum of evidence necessary to corroborate an accomplice's testimony is not required to be sufficient enough to support the accused's conviction independent of the accomplice's testimony nor is it required to extend to every portion of the accomplice's testimony. To the contrary, only slight circumstances are required to corroborate an accomplice's testimony. The corroborating evidence is sufficient if it connects the accused with the crime in question.

In other words, the prosecution must have had little or no other evidence connecting Phillips to the crime charged.



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