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This question deals with how a hypothetical crime would be tried.

Hypothetical situation: The police find two people who have been locked in a room for the past 6 hours. In the room with them is a dead body. Murder! For the sake of simplicity, they somehow know that no one came in or out of the room during those six hours, an eye witness perhaps, but they do know that 3 people went into the room, and only 2 were able to walk out. Survivor A says survivor B was the murderer, and vice versa. All the evidence the police have neither fully incriminates one nor exonerates the other. As they have figured it, there's a 60% chance person A did it and a 40% chance person B did it.

How would this case be tried? There's not enough evidence to make a solid case against one, and all the police have is a hunch. And since America's court system processes one case at a time, these two suspects would be tried separately and would likely both be acquitted as there's simply not enough evidence to convict one. So how would this be tried?

  • I'm confused. If they can't themselves prove who the suspect its, then they likely won't try anyone. – Zizouz212 Sep 19 '16 at 21:55
  • You'll find that the standard of proof for most criminal proceedings is "beyond reasonable doubt" and that it's often difficult or impossible to quantify the chance that someone committed a crime as a percentage. – jimsug Sep 19 '16 at 22:36
  • This reminds me of a case I read of, involving identical twins, where DNA evidence proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" that one of them did it, but the authorities had to let them go because they couldn't prove which one. And the twins weren't telling. – Libra Sep 19 '16 at 23:25
  • In Dale M's answer, the fact that both were convicted and sentenced hinges on the finding that "the deceased’s killing was pursuant to a joint criminal enterprise." Is that the case here? – phoog Sep 20 '16 at 21:00
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Why do you think this is a hypothetical case? The facts almost exactly match R v Rogerson ; R v McNamara (No 57) [2016] NSWSC 1207 (2 September 2016) - 3 men enter a storage unit, 2 men and one dead body leave. Each of the men claims the other committed the murder - the DPP charged both, they were tried together, the jury convicted both and they both received life sentences.

For the more general hypothetical: people can be tried together if that serves the interests of justice - defendants can apply to the court for separate trials but that is not always granted (and this may serve as grounds for an appeal ... or not). There is plenty of evidence of a murder, one (at least) of the two people is a murderer - prosecutors would charge both, present the evidence and let the jury decide which, if any, were guilty.

  • In the case you cite, the jury found that "the deceased’s killing was pursuant to a joint criminal enterprise." It's not clear from the hypothetical whether there is any question of a joint criminal enterprise. – phoog Sep 20 '16 at 21:00

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