California Landmark Cases on Evidence That Justify an Indictment

A grand jury's function is to determine whether probable cause exists to accuse a defendant of a particular crime. (Cummiskey v. Superior Court (1992) 3 Cal.4th 1018, 1026-1027 (Cummiskey) grand jury is functional equivalent of magistrate presiding over preliminary hearing.) That means that such an accusation, or indictment, is sufficiently based upon probable cause " ' " 'if there is some rational ground for assuming the possibility that an offense has been committed and the accused is guilty of it.' " ' " (Id. at p. 1027; see People v. Pic'l (1982) 31 Cal.3d 731, 737 (Pic'l).) " ' "Evidence that will justify an indictment need not be sufficient to support a conviction ... ." ' " (People v. Slaughter (1984) 35 Cal.3d 629, 637.) An indictment may be justified even if the evidence leaves some room for doubt. (Cummiskey, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 1029.) As a result, an indictment should be set aside only if there is no evidence that a crime was committed or there is no evidence to connect the defendant with a crime shown to have been committed. (Lujan, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th at p. 1127; People v. Chapple (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 540, 545 "total absence" of evidence required for dismissal.) In the context of a motion to dismiss an indictment under section 995, the grand jury sits as the finder of fact, while the superior court sits as the reviewing court. (Pic'l, supra, 31 Cal.3d at p. 737.) Every legitimate inference that may be drawn from the evidence must be drawn in favor of the indictment. (Ibid.) The superior court, as the reviewing court, may not substitute its judgment as to the weight of the evidence for that of the fact finder. (Williams v. Superior Court (1969) 71 Cal.2d 1144, 1147-1148.) And, while there must be some showing as to the existence of each element of the crime, such a showing may be made by means of circumstantial evidence supportive of reasonable inferences. (Ibid.) As the appellate court reviewing an indictment, we disregard the trial court's ruling and directly review the grand jury's determination. (People v. Laiwa (1983) 34 Cal.3d 711, 718.)