A suspect in a string of Seattle arson fires was arrested earlier this month after a witness used his cell phone to take photos of the man holding a lighter near one of the fires.
The man was arrested and faces charges of second-degree arson, according to The Seattle Times. He is suspected of starting multiple fires along the north end of a homeless encampment that stretches from Beacon Hill to Sodo under and near Interstate 5.
A motorcyclist saw a suspicious man holding a barbecue lighter and standing next to an old couch left on the street that had been set ablaze. The motorcyclist followed the man and took photos. When he saw a police officer, the witness showed her the photos. The suspect started another seven or eight additional fires the same afternoon before police caught up with him.
If the arson case goes to trial, the cell phone photos could be admitted into evidence.
Law enforcement officers, prosecutors and the state have a responsibility to collect evidence during a criminal investigation and prosecution to protect a defendant's right to due process and a fair trial under the U.S. Constitution. Prosecutors are required to disclose all evidence, whether it can be used to prosecute or to clear a defendant.
Evidence commonly collected during the investigation of a crime include:
- Biological material, such as blood, body fluids, hair and DNA
- Latent prints, such as fingerprints and footprints
- Trace evidence, such as fibers, soil, vegetation and glass fragments
- Digital evidence, such as cell phone records, internet logs and emails
- Tools and tool marks; footwear and tire tracks; drugs; firearms and photographs
In a criminal trial, the prosecutor has to prove each element necessary to his or her case beyond a reasonable doubt. Satisfying the burden of proof requires the prosecutor to present evidence first. However, not all evidence an attorney presents will be allowed by a judge.
“The concept of relevance plays a pivotal role in legal fact-finding,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. In general, “whatever is relevant is receivable as evidence by the court.”
Evidence that is irrelevant or immaterial to the facts of the case likely will be excluded by a judge, who prefers direct evidence, such as an official document or a witness's knowledge of a question at issue. In addition to being “relevant,” evidence must be “competent,” such as a birth certificate introduced to prove a person's age or a bloody garment exhibited to prove that the victim suffered injury.
Admitting photographs as evidence may be a little more complicated. New computer technology and the digitalization of information, make it easier to forge or manipulate electronic documents and photos.
In addition to physical evidence, witnesses can offer evidence through their testimony.
If the person who takes the stand is an “expert witness,” such as a doctor, who is called to testify about technical questions, he or she may offer an opinion. Otherwise, no witness may express an opinion on any matter when the jury can draw its own conclusions from the facts. Hearsay is also excluded. Hearsay is testimony about a statement made outside of court by a person not testifying.
Anyone facing criminal prosecution, no matter the charges or the evidence, deserves the best defense. If you have been arrested, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.
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