Legal Question in Criminal Law in California

what is consciousness of guilt?

What is "consciouness of guilt"? I have never heard of it or been able to find it a the law books.

Asked on 10/24/97, 4:03 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Larry Bruce Larry B. Bruce Attorney At Law

Consciousness of Guilt

When a person who is accused of a crime does something which an innocent person would not do, at least in theory, the law deems that he has displayed a consciousness of guilt. The jury is told that they may weigh such an act as being consciousness of guilt in their deliberations. An example may illustrate the point, and some problems attendant to it. A fight occurs between two men. Someone yells that the police are on their way. One man waits for the police. The other man runs away. Assume that the second man is charged with assault. The issue is what weight is to be attached to the flight by the accused when he learned that the police were coming. The jury will be told that such flight may (emphasis on the word "may") be evidence of consciousness of guilt. Now, the problem is that the accused may have had many unrelated reasons for running. He may have had traffic warrants outstanding. He may have been wanted on more serious charges. It is not a happy choice to consider having to tell the jury in this case about the defendant's problems in other cases just to disarm the consciousness of guilt theory. On the other hand, it is logical that, where unexplained, flight from a crime scene very well may illustrate the accused's own mental state that he had committed a crime. In a sense, the act of running places a burden on the accused to explain such conduct or face the consequences of it.

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Answered on 10/28/97, 12:50 am

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