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Is An Extrajudicial Confession Enough To Convict Someone Of A Crime?

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Is An Extrajudicial Confession Enough To Convict Someone Of A Crime?


There is a legal principle in Texas known as corpus delicti. It basically means that means an “extrajudicial confession,” in and of itself, is insufficient to prove the defendant’s guilt unless there is some independent evidence to corroborate that a crime actually occurred.

To give a simple illustration, say a woman confesses to a friend that she broke into a house and stole a valuable piece of jewelry. The friend goes to the police. The police cannot verify that any robbery occurred. The woman does not have any stolen jewelry in her possession and there were no reports of any recent robberies in the neighborhood. Under the corpus delicti rule, the mere fact the woman “confessed” the crime to her friend is not enough to actually convict her in court.

Court of Criminal Appeals “Discrete Exception” to Longstanding Rule for Child Sexual Abuse Cases

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) recently carved out a narrow exception to the corpus delecti rule in a case involving alleged sexual indecency with a minor child who was too young to communicate verbally. In this case, State v. Shumway, the defendant confessed to his church’s bishop that he had touched the genitals of a friend’s infant child, who was 17 months old at the time. The defendant later made a similar confession to his wife.

The bishop informed law enforcement and the child’s parents. The parents had the child examined by a health care professional, who found no physical evidence of sexual assault. The child was not interviewed due to her age and lack of verbal communication skills. Nevertheless, prosecutors charged the defendant with “aggravated sexual assault with a child” and “indecency with a child.” At trial, the prosecution’s main witnesses were the officer who investigated the case, as well as the bishop and the defendant’s wife, who both testified as to the defendant’s extrajudicial confessions.

The jury acquitted the defendant of sexual assault but found him guilty of indecency with a child. The trial judge sentenced the defendant to 20 years in prison. On appeal, the defendant challenged his conviction on corpus delicti grounds. Before the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state argued that a confession “may be used to aid in the establishment of corpus delicti. Alternatively, the state asked the CCA to create an exception to the rule in cases such as this one.

As previously noted, the CCA went for the latter option. The Court did make it clear that under normal circumstances, the defendant’s conviction would not survive a corpus delicti challenge. There was simply no independent evidence supporting the existence of the criminal act–i.e., that the defendant touched the child’s genitals. That said, the CCA said it would not “recognize a discrete exception to the strict application of the corpus delicti rule for cases in which a defendant provides a well-corroborated confession to a sexual offense that was committed against a child who was incapable of outcry and that did not result in perceptible harm.” In such cases, like this one, the rule “will not bar conviction.”

Speak with Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today

When you are charged with a serious crime, there are any number of ways that the law can help or hurt you. That is why you need to work with an experienced Pearland criminal defense lawyer who understands the system and will work on your behalf to protect your rights. Contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation.


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