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Fingerprint Evidence Supports Laptops Thefts

The Court of Appeals affirms defendant’s conviction of grand theft for stealing two laptop computers valued at $2,700 and $20 in cash from a vehicle parked at a shopping mall garage; defendant’s fingerprint was found on the small metal box in which the vehicle owner kept cash for tolls and parking fees, and the circumstantial evidence supported the trial conclusion that defendant stole the cash and computers.

Sitting as fact finder, the trial court found that the circumstantial evidence combined with the victim’s testimony reasonably precluded the hypothesis that defendant had handled the victim’s money box at some time other than the commission of the theft. The trial judge concluded there would have been no other reason for defendant to have been in the vehicle other than to consummate the theft.

On appeal, defendant does not contest that the larceny occurred, but he does dispute the sufficiency of the evidence proving he was the “criminal agent.” We see no reason to disturb the trial judge’s verdict.

The legal principles governing the probative value of fingerprint evidence have been settled for a century. It is true, as defendant contends, that a mere fingerprint viewed in isolation, wholly independently of any contextual circumstances, often falls far short of proving guilt. But it is equally true the circumstances tending to reasonably exclude the hypothesis that the print was impressed at a time other than that of the crime need not be circumstances completely independent of the fingerprint, and may properly include circumstances such as the location of the print, the character of the place or premises where it was found and the accessibility of the general public to the object on which the print was impressed. A latent fingerprint found at the scene of the crime, shown to be that of an accused, tends to show that he was at the scene of the crime.

As defendant’s counsel correctly conceded in the trial court, the fingerprint evidence proved defendant’s guilt in taking the money from the small metal box. The victim had seen the money that very day, around noon, in the metal box kept in the center console of the vehicle. He discovered the money missing after driving away from the mall parking lot. Defendant’s fingerprint on the box proved he had handled it. The victim’s testimony that he had never seen defendant, did not know him and certainly had never given him access to his vehicle closed the circumstantial loop and demonstrated that defendant had taken the money while the vehicle was parked in the mall parking lot. These facts proved that defendant had no business or reason to be in the victim’s vehicle.

It would also be naïve to suppose that defendant, while stealing $20 from the victim’s metal box, did not also steal the two laptop computers (worth far more) at the same time. There is no evidence in the case to support an inference that someone other than defendant entered the victim’s vehicle and stole the laptop computers during the same, purely coincidental time frame in which defendant took the money.

Viewed in their totality, the circumstances of this case provide ample evidence from which a rational fact finder could conclude that defendant stole the money and the laptop computers from the victim’s vehicle.

Winslow v. Commonwealth (Kelsey) No. 1447-13-4, Dec. 23, 2014; Arlington County Cir.Ct. (Newman) Dusty Sparrow, APD, for appellant; Susan Baumgartner, AAG, for appellee. VLW 014-7-377, 8 pp.

VLW 014-7-377

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