Florida Supreme Court Directs Acquittal of Death Row Inmate

On June 12, the Supreme Court of Florida (6-1) overturned the convictions and death sentence of Carl Dausch because the state presented insufficient evidence of his guilt at trial. The Court directed that he be acquitted of all offenses, stating, “[T]he record lacks sufficient evidence of the perpetrator’s identity.” Dausch was convicted primarily on fingerprints and DNA from a cigarette butt that were found in the victim’s car. DNA evidence taken from the victim was less definitive. Dausch said he had hitchhiked while returning home from a family vacation, and the person who picked him up was likely the actual killer. Because the evidence against Dausch was circumstantial, the court applied a “special standard of review,” which required “that the circumstances lead ‘to a reasonable and moral certainty that the accused and no one else committed the offense charged. It is not sufficient that the facts create a strong probability of, and be consistent with, guilt. They must be inconsistent with innocence.” The Court said the evidence only linked Dausch to the victim’s car, not to the murder itself.

The Court concluded, “At best, the evidence presented by the State creates a suspicion of guilt. Therefore, because we conclude that there is a lack of competent substantial evidence to support Dausch’s convictions, we reverse and vacate both of Dausch’s convictions and sentences. We remand this case to the trial court with instructions that a judgment of acquittal be entered.” The lone dissenter would have reversed Dausch’s convictions but remanded for a new trial. Dausch is serving a 60-year sentence in Indiana on an unrelated rape conviction.

(B. Farrington, “Supreme Court throws out conviction in ‘87 killing,” Associated Press, June 12, 2014; see Dausch v. Florida, No. SC12-1161 (June 12, 2014), per curiam). The state is challenging the Florida decision, but if upheld, Dausch could be added to DPIC’s List of Exonerations, containing 144 cases since 1973. Florida has had the most exonerations of any state (24). See Innocence; listen to DPIC’s podcast on Innocence.