Not All Confessions Are Created Equal – The Corpus Delicti Issue

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.

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