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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > December 2013 > Investigations (Circumstantial Evidence): State of Ohio v. Ruppert and State of Ohio v. Carver

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Investigations (Circumstantial Evidence): State of Ohio v. Ruppert and State of Ohio v. Carver

Question: Is circumstantial evidence enough to arrest someone when there is no hard evidence that the person committed a crime?
Quick Answer: Yes, circumstantial evidence can be used when it is inferred from reasonable and justifiably connected facts to support a finding of criminal activity.

State of Ohio v. Ruppert, Fourth Appellate District, Washington County, Oct. 30, 2013
State of Ohio v. Carver,  Fifth Appellate District, Ashland County, Nov. 5, 2013 

Facts in Ruppert: Theresa Ann Everson was awakened by her dogs barking and a call for help. About five minutes later, she heard the call for help again. She looked out the window to see Charles Ruppert standing about 50 feet from her home. Everson called the police at 5:56 a.m. Deputy Jeremiah McConnell was dispatched to the Everson property and arrived a few minutes after 6 a.m. There he saw Ruppert walking toward him with his hands in the air. Ruppert told McConnell he was lost, and he seemed disoriented and confused, was staggering, and had a strong smell of alcohol. Ruppert told McConnell that he was driving and the next think he knew he was in the woods. McConnell found Ruppert’s car parked down the hill, in a wooded area about 50 to 60 yards from the house. The hood of the car was still warm. McConnell conducted a field sobriety test and determined Ruppert was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Ruppert was taken to jail, where he blew a .174 on the BAC test at 8:15 a.m. Ruppert was charged with OVI. He filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the BAC test was more than three hours from the time he operated the vehicle. The court determined that even with no hard evidence, the fact-driven situation allowed for a conclusion that the motor vehicle was operated within the three-hour time period. 
Facts in Carver: Trooper Eugene Crum of the Ohio State Highway Patrol responded to the scene of a single-vehicle accident. He found a truck crashed into a tree, William Carver passed out in the back, and the keys on the floor. The area around the truck was muddy, and Crum did not notice any footprints around the vehicle. When he woke Carver up, Carver told him “Jason” was driving. He also mentioned Jason was bleeding from the accident. Crum looked inside the vehicle and found no blood. Carver was, however, bleeding slightly from his nose and claimed he hit the dash. Crum looked at the dash and saw no indication that someone hit it. Crum believed Carver’s injury was more consistent with a driver hitting a steering wheel if not wearing a seat belt. Crum administered a field sobriety test, which indicated Carver was under the influence. Crum then went to the apartment where Carver said Jason lived, but was unable to locate anyone named Jason. Carver was charged with OVI, failure to control, and not wearing a seat belt. Carver appealed, arguing there was not sufficient evidence to show that he operated the truck. The court found that although there was no direct evidence that Carver was operating the vehicle, the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to conclude Carver was driving. 
Importance: A large part of investigating crime is taking independent facts and adding them together to come up with a complete case theory. This theory can be based on circumstantial evidence, which is inferred from reasonable and justifiably connected facts. In the above cases, neither officer nor any witness observed the suspects operating the cars. But both officers were able to connect the facts in a way that led to a reasonable and justifiable conclusion.
Keep in Mind: The key to circumstantial evidence is logic. If you have to stretch one fact too far to make the pieces connect, that inference is probably not reasonable. For example, if in Ruppert, the officer found the hood of the car to be cold, it is probably unlikely the vehicle was driven within the three-hour window for the BAC test to be valid. Similarly, if the officer in Carver found footprints in the mud going away from the car, it may have been likely someone else had driven the vehicle. To brush up on crime scene investigations, check out the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy’s selection of crime scene courses.