What many people don’t understand in the criminal law world is that
just because you make a statement against your own interest (otherwise
known as a confession), it doesn’t necessarily prove that a crime
has been committed, and it doesn’t necessarily prove you are guilty.
This is right, just because you admit to doing something illegal doesn’t
mean you are guilty. What we are talking about is Corpus Delicti.
The term Corpus Delicti, Latin for “the body of the crime,”
is used to refer to the legal elements needed to prove that a crime has
been committed. The Corpus Delicti rule means that a crime must be independently
proven before one can be convicted of committing that crime. The Corpus
Delicti rule dates back hundreds of years to prevent the conviction of
anybody who confessed to non-existent crimes because of mental illness
or law enforcement coercion. It is such a good rule that it has been incorporated
into our modern criminal laws. As the Courts in Florida stated, “it
is to remove the danger of a defendant being convicted out of derangement,
mistake or official fabrication.”
This is where your statement becomes an issue. The “independently
proven” part is separate and aside from your own testimony. There
must be evidence free of your confession that you committed a crime. In
other words, the crime charged cannot be proven only through your statements.
Before the State Attorney can introduce your statements, they must introduce
some evidence independent from your confession to establish that the crime
you confessed to actually happened. This standard does not require this
proof to be great or uncontested, but it must at least show the existence
of each and every element of the crime.
For example, if an intoxicated person is standing next to a parked car,
and they make a confession to a police officer that they just drove there,
this statement would not be allowed into evidence by itself. The evidence
would have to show that the person committed a
DUI beyond just the statement. There would have to be independent evidence,
such as someone seeing the person drive the car under the influence. After
the independent evidence is established, then the statement could be used
against the person.
So just because someone confesses about a crime that doesn’t mean
the confession automatically is evidence. Corpus Delicti requires the
State to show more proof than just those statements if they want to use
their words against them.