The Corpus Delecti rule - "The body of a Crime"

Situation: I admitted to a crime, but the officer doesn’t seem to have any other evidence. Can they convict me of my crime?
Response: It all depends on the crime you admitted to. The Corpus Delecti rule, latin for “the body of a crime”, is the common law rule in Michigan which originally required proof both of death and criminal agency that consists of evidence independent from your confession. In People of the State of Michigan v. James McMahan, McMahan admitted to killing Carolyn Kenyon five years after her disappearance. The prosecution failed to show any evidence of Kenyon’s body, murder weapon, or motive and instead leaned entirely on the weight of McMahan’s confession.
The Supreme Court of Michigan cited People v. Kirby (1923) which found that the disappearance of an infant, by itself, was insufficient to establish the corpus delecti of murder. The state failed to show criminal agency, either by a motive like in People v. Brasic where there was evidence that the defendant had acted violently towards the victim or in People v. Modelski where there was proof of previous arguments and violence from the defendant toward the victim.
Because all the state was relying on to convict McMahan of murder was his confession, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals that ultimately reversed his conviction.
This does not mean that just because there is no evidence of your crime without your confession(s) that you can’t be convicted of a crime. the corpus delecti’s purpose is not to determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence, but instead to protect the defendant from being convicted of a crime that did not occur. People v. Porter (1934) found that a statement is an admission if the fact admitted alone does not show guilt without proof of other facts which are not admitted. The key part of the corpus delecti rule is whether the evidence of criminal agency is independent of the confession.
The corpus delecti rule has been expanded to generally mean “body of the crime” and applied to all criminal charges, not just murder. To learn more contact us today.


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