Principle of Connective Force

Principle of Connective Force

While discussing South Carolina vs. Nathaniel Rowland on Morning Docket on Law and Crime,1The following commentary is offered pursuant to Canon 4(B) of the Code of Judicial Conduct: “A Judge may (1) speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in extrajudicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice and non-legal subjects subject to the requirements of this Code.” the principle of connective force came up for discussion. What is it?

Our old friend Alexander Burrill articulates the principle like this2Burrill, Alexander M. A Treatise on the Nature, Principles, and Rules of Circumstantial Evidence (1868). P. 602. You can find out more about this treatise and a nifty tool for the practitioner here. :

The evidentiary facts, with their inferred and assigned meanings, may also in many cases be very appropriately compared to the strands of a rope or cable, forming so many lines of connection with the principal fact, each continuous in itself, though weak in its connecting power; but when woven together in sufficient numbers, constituting a medium of connection which cannot be broken.

The object of all judicial investigation is to determine whether the person on trial is guilty as charged. Burrill refers to that fact as Principal Fact. Since jurors can’t also be witnesses, they must be shown the evidence that uncovers or reveals this principal fact. That process must be done one witness at a time, one piece of  evidence at a time. Each strand represents a piece of evidence the sheds some light on the principal fact in varying degrees of persuasiveness when considered by themselves. When considered together, however, the sum of the parts becomes much greater than the whole. A witness who identifies a defendant in court as a  person who committed theft when they saw them secreting items on their person is by itself somewhat persusive evidence that the person is guilty of theft. Another witness who testifies that they arrested the same person with the stolen property a short time later is also by itself somewhat persuasive evidence that the person is guilty of theft. The persuasive strength each witnesses impact on the principal fact increases dramatically when the testimony of both are considered together. This is the principle of connective force.

When two or more pieces of independently analyzed criminative evidence reveal or support the same conclusion, their collective or converged force is greater than the sum of their individual parts. The fact of convergent and united bearing now presents itself as an element of proof showing the common determinate tendency from two distinct and different points upon another is not accidental but must be due to the operation of some real, inducing cause, common to both. The probability that the assigned bearing is true is greatly increased and strengthened, while the force of infirmative possibilities to meet them is diminished and weakened, and there is conversely less room for suppositions of accident or the act of another.3Burrill, Page 590.

In the Rowland case, the victim was captured on videotape entering the Defendant’s Chevrolet Impala she mistook for her Uber ride. Her body was discovered stabbed to death 14 hours later and 65 miles away. Here are the pertinent pieces of evidence according to the evidence thus far adduced at trial: The victim’s DNA was discovered under the defendant’s fingernails; the victim’s DNA was discovered in the defendant’s car; cell tower records indicate that the the victim’s cell phone and defendant’s cell phone were bouncing off the same towers during the same time frame; evidence indicated the defendant attempted to sell the victim’s cell phone. Any one of those pieces have some impact on the principal fact, the strength of which depends on the perception of the individual juror. Two of those facts combined have a much greater impact than one, and three more so than two. The strength of each strand, of course, depends on the degree to which the juror believes the witnesses testimony.