States Burden of Proof When a Case Involves Premeditated and Felony Murder

In Atwater v. State, 626 So. 2d 1325 (Fla. 1993), the jury was instructed on both premeditated and felony murder, and there was ample evidence to demonstrate premeditation. The jury returned a general guilty verdict of murder. While Atwater did not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his murder conviction, he did attack the robbery conviction, claiming that the evidence introduced by the State to support the charge was not sufficient. At trial, Atwater presented two defenses to robbery, one of which was that the theft was an afterthought. In rejecting this argument, we reasoned: Where circumstantial evidence is relied upon to prove a crime, in order to overcome a defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal, the burden is on the State to introduce evidence which excludes every reasonable hypothesis except guilt. The State is not required to conclusively rebut every possible variation of events which can be inferred from the evidence but only to introduce competent evidence which is inconsistent with the defendant's theory of events. State v. Law, 559 So. 2d 187, 189 (Fla. 1989). Once this threshold burden has been met, the question of whether the evidence is sufficient to exclude all reasonable hypotheses of innocence is for the jury to determine. In the instant case, the State presented testimony showing that Atwater had obtained money from Smith on previous occasions, that Smith feared Atwater, and that, on the day of the murder, Smith told a friend that he was not going to give Atwater any more money. Further, there was evidence that Smith had cash in his trousers pocket shortly before the killing. When the body was found, the pockets were turned out and the only money found in the room was a few pennies on the floor. We conclude that the judge properly denied the motion for judgment of acquittal and that there was sufficient evidence to convict of robbery. 626 So. 2d at 1327-28. In Atwater, there was no proof that the defendant had foreknowledge that the victim had money at the specific time that he was murdered; only that he had obtained money from the victim on previous occasions.