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The State in Florida Cannot Use a Defendant’s Confession Alone to Prove Case Without Independent Evidence

In a criminal case in Florida, if the state has a full, valid confession of a crime from a suspect, can they use that alone to convict the person of the crime? No. The state must have evidence independent of a confession to prove the crime occurred before it can use a confession against a defendant. Most of the time, this is not an issue, but there are cases where the state tries to rely on a confession without much, if any, independent evidence that a crime occurred and that the suspect committed the crime. The state does not need to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt independent of the confession, but the state does need to have substantial evidence of the crime outside of the confession. The state can use direct or circumstantial evidence to independently establish the crime. However, independent evidence of the identity of the suspect is not a requirement for a confession to be admissible, unless it is necessary to prove a crime occurred.

This may seem obvious. The police must have some evidence that the suspect committed the crime or they would not likely bring the suspect in for a confession. However, there are cases where the identify of the suspect is critical to the issue of whether a crime occurred. For instance, if three people are in a vehicle, it crashes and when police arrive, all three people are outside of the vehicle. When the police arrive, it is not clear which was the driver at the time of the crash. Only one of the three is impaired from alcohol. This is only a crime (a DUI) if the impaired person was driving. If that person confesses that he was driving, that may be the only evidence that a crime occurred as it would not be a crime if one of the other two was driving. In that case, if the state had no other independent evidence the impaired person was driving, the confession alone would not be enough to prosecute the driver for DUI.

Consider another DUI case where a person crashes into another vehicle and causes an injury or death and leaves the scene. The police track the vehicle and determine that it was the vehicle involved in the crash based on paint transfer and location of the damage. Inside the vehicle, the police find items linking the vehicle to the suspect, such as a house key and documentation. If the suspect later confesses, that confession could be used against the defendant since there was independent evidence that a crime occurred and that the suspect was the driver.

This is referred to as the state’s burden to establish the corpus delicti of a crime before a confession of the crime is admissible.