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Corpus Delicti in Utah Criminal Cases

Question: Do Utah courts utilize corpus delicti rules in criminal cases?

Traditional Corpus Delicti Rule

Utah Criminal Lawyer Salt LakeUnder traditional corpus delicti rules used by Utah courts, a prosecutor in a criminal case generally cannot introduce evidence of a confession made by a defendant unless the prosecutor can first present evidence that: the injury or harm specified for the crime has occurred; and that the injury or harm was caused by some person's criminal conduct. The corpus delicti rule thus requires corroboration of the defendant's out-of-court confession before that confession can be presented as evidence in court. Once the confession is corroborated under corpus delicti, the confession can then be used to prove that the defendant is the person who committed the crime.

The purpose of the rule has traditionally been viewed as preventing innocent persons from being wrongfully convicted on the basis of a false confession. But many courts have acknowledged that the rule likely has also allowed guilty peopleto go free.

Overturning Corpus Delicti - Stare Decisis

The Utah Supreme Court abandoned corpus delicti in Mauchley (2003 UT 10), replacing it instead with a "trustworthiness" standard for corroboration of confessions. The Court determined that the traditional corpus delicti rule was anachronistic, did not protect innocent defendant's who falsely confessed to actual crimes, inadequately protected the innocent because of the rule's focus on the crime rather than the confession, and often worked as an obstruction of justie by allowing self-confessed criminals to go free.

In abandoning corpus delicti, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the doctricne of stare decisis placed a substantial burden on the party seeking to have prior case precedent overruled. Nevertheless, the court determined that the rule was no longer justified, given various constitutional safeguards now in place to preven coerced false confessions (e.g. requiring the giving of Miranda warnings and extending the right to counsel to include criminal interrogations).

Trustworthiness Standard for Corroboration

To meet the new corroboration rule, the Court declared that a prosecutor need only present evidence that the confession is trustworthy. This evidence need not include any independent evidence that a crime occurred, as had been required under the former corpus delicti rule. Instead, evidence of the statement's trustworthiness can "include the following: evidence as to the spontaneity of the statement; the absence of deception, trick, threats, or promises to obtain the statement; the defendant's positive physical and mental condition, including age, education, and experience; and the presence of an attorney when the statement is given."

Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney in Salt Lake City

If you are the subject of any criminal investigation, it can be vital that you not make any statements to police (or anyone else) regarding the alleged crime without first consulting with an experienced criminal attorney. Because the bar for admissibility under the trustworthiness rule is much lower, there is a heightened risk that criminal confessions may serve as the means of convicting a person.

Based in Salt Lake City, criminal defense lawyer Stephen Howard has defended his clients rights in cases ranging from aggravated murder to DUI, and virtually everything in between. He has the experience, skill, knowledge, and determination to help you achieve the results you need.

Contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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