Can a murder conviction proceed without finding the body? Ask the Attorney – Orange County Register

Q: There’s a gruesome news report about a Massachusetts mother of three who hasn’t been seen since the New Year. Her husband has been charged with her murder, but they have not found a body. A murder case can be continued without a body and a conviction obtained?

FM, DelAire

A: Research shows that there is a good success rate of convicting a person accused of murder even though no body is found. For example, last year a man was convicted of murdering Kristin Smart, even though her body was never found (she disappeared in 1996).

The particular case you are referring to involves Ana Walshe (who is missing) and her husband Brian. Reading about it suggests there is some circumstantial evidence (from items Mr. Walshe researched online to garbage bags containing obvious bloodstains, a hacksaw and more). Conclusion: If no body is found, the jury will be briefed on what is required to establish a positive determination of guilt and how the jury is entitled to evaluate and treat circumstantial evidence. If there’s just one reasonable conclusion, it could be part of what convinces a jury to convict someone of murder, even if a body is never found.

Q: Can you explain involuntary manslaughter and do you have any thoughts on the charges against actor Alec Baldwin?

PK, Whittier

A: Section 192b of the California Criminal Code defines involuntary manslaughter as the accidental killing of another person while committing either a crime that is not an inherently dangerous crime or a lawful act capable of leading to death. An example would be when an employer forces their employee to work outside in very high heat, which ultimately results in the person dying from heat stroke.

In California, involuntary manslaughter is a felony. Possible penalties include up to four years in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Alec Baldwin’s criminal case is pending in New Mexico, which has its own statute relating to involuntary manslaughter. There are probably similarities here with our Statute. We can assume Baldwin didn’t mean to hurt, let alone kill, but did he act so recklessly by not checking the gun before firing that his behavior reached the level of involuntary manslaughter? That will be one of the myriad questions the jury will have to decide. Also, if I understand correctly, he’s being sued on two counts – as himself, as an acting actor, and as a producer playing a role in overseeing the set. The prosecutor has two hats that Baldwin wore, and maybe that makes her job a little less difficult.

Still, I think many attorneys will find that the involuntary manslaughter charges against Baldwin pose a challenge to the prosecutor. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out, including whether Baldwin will testify in his own defense. Can a murder conviction proceed without finding the body? Ask the Attorney – Orange County Register

Grace Reader

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