Reversing a Conviction on "Manifest Weight of the Evidence" Challenge


Most criminal defense lawyers have tried a case that was chock full of reasonable doubt resulting in a conviction. Baffled, the appeal gets lined up. First appellate issue is the infamous "The Jury's Verdict Was Against The Manifest Weight of The Evidence". What exactly does this mean and does it ever work?

The 1991 Ohio Supreme Court case State v. Jenks is one of the most frequently cited criminal cases in Ohio appellate decisions: "An appellate court's function when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction is to examine the evidence admitted at trial to determine whether such evidence, if believed, would convince the average mind of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt." Lawyers love run on sentences.

Here is what we tell our clients. The court of appeals functions as the "13th juror". It will review the entire record, the evidence, the inferences, consider the credibility of the witnesses, and determine if the jury clearly lost its way. Then, if the jury did lose its way, is there a manifest miscarriage of justice requiring the overturning of the conviction and ordering a new trial.

Boiling it down to an even more granular level, a reversal of a jury conviction is reserved for only the "exceptional case in which the evidence weighs heavily against the conviction". That short definition comes from the 1997 Ohio Supreme Court case State v. Thompkins, probably the 2nd most cited criminal case in Ohio appellate law.

Does the ever win? Very rarely.