WHAT IS CORPUS DELICTI
Corpus Delicti is a latin phrase that means “the body of the crime.” It is an evidentiary doctrine that states before a confession can come into evidence the government must first prove that a crime was committed.
HOW DOES THE GOVERNMENT PROVE A CRIME OCCURRED WITHOUT A CONFESSION
Crimes to prove a crime the government must every element of the crime (Elements are the points the government must show that a crime occurred). Before bringing in a confession the government does not have to prove these points beyond a reasonable doubt, or even by a preponderance of the case. The government is only required to set for a prima facie case of the crime, which means they only need some evidence to support every element of the crime. In addition the government is not required to prove the identity of the person who committed the crime before bringing in their confession.
THE POSSESSION OF CONTRABAND EXAMPLE
Contraband (a substance that’s illegal to possess) is a good example of corpus delicti, and can also lead to examples cases with questionable results.
Case 1: If law enforcement pulls over a car full of people, and finds a small bag of cannabis in the center console. If one of the passengers riding in the car admits the cannabis is theirs, then if his case goes to trial the confession will come in at trial. This is because it is illegal to possess cannabis, and since it’s found in a bag in the car the government has proven that a crime was committed.
Case 2: If law enforcement pulls over a car full of people and finds a gun in the car. If one of people riding in the car is a convicted felon and admits the gun is his. The government might not be able to bring his confession into evidence if he is charged with possessing a gun by a convicted felon. This is because possessing the gun alone is not enough to prove the crime. The government must prove it was possessed by a convicted felon.