Know Your Corpus Delicti
Thanks to the many number of crime shows on television, most of us regular watchers have become amateur/armchair sleuths and investigators; and so we think we know what the lead character means when he/she says that the suspect has to be set free because of corpus delicti. However, if you’re presuming that corpus delicti refers to the fact that there is no body to be found, you’re dead wrong (pun unintended).
In fact, the Latin term means “body of the crime” and could refer to any of the facts that conclusively prove that a crime has been committed. The “corpus” refers to a figurative body rather than a literal corpse. So if it is a murder, you would need the body of the murdered victim; if it is a robbery, then you need proof that something was stolen; if it is arson, corpus delicti refers to the burned property, and so on.
Corpus delicti has been done away with in the federal justice system in the US, and in a few states across the country. In its place is a rule that allows prosecutors to provide evidence that a crime has been committed, and even if the evidence is circumstantial, the suspect can be convicted if said evidence is able to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Corpus delicti has a significant role to play in deciding what kind of evidence is admissible in court; it is why admissions of guilt or confessions of the suspect are by themselves not enough to secure a conviction, and also why the testimony of an accomplice is not given much credence in convicting the accused.
This tenet of law goes to reassert the statement that it is better to let 10 guilty men go free than to convict one innocent man – the effects and consequences of a wrongful conviction are severe and permanent.
This guest post is contributed by Tara Forten, who writes on the topic of online forensic science technician degree. Tara can be reached at her email id: tara.forte12_AT_gmail_dot_com