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01/20/14: How the Corpus Rule applies to those accused of a crime in Fort Myers, Naples and Port Charlotte

Corpus delecti means “the body of the crime” and for those accused of a crime in Southwest Florida the corpus rule means that a Prosecutor cannot use a confession against you absent additional evidence that you have commited the crime.

Understanding the history of the rule of corpus delecti is helpful in understanding its modern place in criminal law in Florida. The corpus rule is generally believed to have its origins in Perry’s case which is a triple murder prosecution in England in 1661. In Perry’s case three unfortunate defendants were accused of murder. The sole evidence of their guilt was the confession of one of the three that they had murdered the victim in the case. All three men were executed for murder. A wrinkle in the seemingly just executions appeared when the man that the three defendants had supposedly murdered showed up alive and well shortly after the three defendant’s were executed for his murder.

The rationale behind the corpus rule is that confessions alone absent other evidence are not enough proof of guilt for a party to be convicted of a crime. If the only evidence of guilt in a criminal case is the defendant’s confession that confession can not be used to convict them of the crime. The corpus rule in Florida is in existence in order to further three policies:

  1. To protect the mentally unstable from being convicted as a result of untrue or delusional confessions
  2. To make sure that innocent people are not convicted due to coerced and involuntary confessions obtained by overzealous police officers
  3. To promote more thorough police work by requiring officers to obtain additional evidence beyond a confession

The Florida Supreme Court succinctly summarized the purpose of the corpus rule as follows, “A person’s confession to a crime is not sufficient evidence of a criminal act where no independent direct or circumstantial evidence exists to substantiate the occurence of a crime. The judicial quest for truth requires that no person be convicted out of derangement, mistake or official fabrication.”