Russell Hebets Feb. 14, 2013

The Colorado Supreme Court issued an interesting decision in People v. LaRosa on January 14, 2013. This case overturns a 100 year old precedent in Colorado criminal law and could impact the way many crimes are investigated and prosecuted.

So what is the issue in this case? The case involves the “corpus delicti rule” which states the prosecutors must present some evidence other than the defendant’s confession to convict them. This may be physical evidence, testimony of a victim, or testimony of witness. In this case a man was convicted using only his confession. The Colorado Supreme court overturned the “corups delicti rule” and established a new “trustworthiness standard” which requires “the prosecution to present evidence that proves that a confession is trustworthy or reliable. Basically, the prosecution just has to offer evidence that proves the confession. Examples include if the confession was made multiple times to different people, if the confession consistent, and if the confession consistent with the defendant’s opportunity to commit the crime and many others.

In practice, the corpus delecti doctrine is not a major criminal law issue, simply because confessions are usually accompanied by at least some corroborating evidence that the criminal defendant committed a crime. However, this issue does come up in crimes where there is little physical evidence that can be collected other than statements made by the individuals involved, such as child molestation or abuse cases.

So what does this mean for criminal defendants? In the future this means that any confession made to police or anyone else may become a much bigger portion of the prosecution’s case. This also means that defense counsel will have to calculate their trial strategy based upon this new trustworthiness standard. The biggest implication is that this reinforces the advice that a defendant should never speak to the police without an attorney present. We have said it before and we will say it again: an individual under investigation for a crime should always invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and remain silent.