Criminal Law Explained – Corpus Delicti
No one wants to know or talk to a criminal defense attorney until they are in trouble. There is a certain jinx or hex that people seem to think follow those seeking out criminal advice before they need it. But, once you are charged with a crime, you quickly realize how important a good criminal lawyer is.
And part of the need for a defense attorney is the need to translate all of the legal mumbo jumbo that is tossed back and forth between the judge and the attorneys. Here are just a couple of words you might here during your criminal process, some you may know, some you may not: hearsay, nunc pro tunc; arraignment; omnibus; voir dire; res ipsa loquitor; and on and on.
Well, I’m here today to help you understand what one of those legal terms means – corpus delicti. This is a word you may not hear spouted in court a lot, but it is an important term for your defense attorney to know, particularly if you have confessed to a crime and he or she wants to try to get that confession suppressed. So that you better understand the word, I’ve broken it down for you below.
As I mentioned above, corpus delicti comes up most often in the context of confessions, and particularly in the context of confessions where not a lot of other evidence exists against the defendant. See, judges and courts, though more than willing to admit a confession if one is given, don’t necessarily like confessions, particularly if they are the only thing the proseuctor has on a defendant. The reason is, we know false confessions are given from time to time. And we know that juries place in extremely high regard confessions of defendants. So, judges and courts are hesitant to allow confessions in unless there is some other independent evidence of the criminal act.
And that other independent evidence of a criminal act is what corpus delicti stands for. If there is no corpus delicti, or other independent evidence of a crime, the court will not allow in a confession because there is the likelihood (whether reasonable or otherwise) that the confession was falsely provided. Still a little bit confused as to what it means? How about an example.
Let’s say there is a guy. He is standing out in a parking lot with some other people around some cars. Let’s say the people in the car and the people out of the car get into a shouting match, for whatever reason. In the end, the guys in the car decide to leave. As they are pulling away, the driver hears a noise on his car and turns around. He doesn’t see anyone touching his car or necessarily by his car, but there is only one person in the area. The guy in the car doesn’t check his car out until later, when he sees a dent in the side of his car. He thinks it was the guy he saw around his car earlier.
The cops go and pick up the guy they suspect of damaging the car and take him down to the police station. After some talking and interrogating, they get the guy to admit to kicking the car. He is arrested and charged with malicious mischief.
In this case, do you think the rule of corpus delicti exists here? Without the confession, all the police have for evidence is the guy hearing something happen to his car, turn around, and see the guy near the car. What is missing is any evidence that the guy hit the car, and that he did it with an intent to damage the car. It is possible (theoretically, if no confession had been given) that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when the guy turned around. For a case like that a corpus delicti argument might be a way to get the confession suppressed.