In Florida, a defendant’s statement or confession is not admissible at a trial until the state sufficiently proves what is referred to as corpus delicti. Corpus delicti refers to the legal elements that are necessary to prove that a crime occurred. The state must first prove these legal elements with substantial elements independent of the confession. In other words, the state cannot merely use the confession to prove that the crime occurred. On the contrary, the state must present evidence that the crime occurred before the state can present the confession in court.
The concept can be illustrated by a recent criminal case south of Jacksonville, Florida. In this case, the defendant was charged with possession of cocaine and tampering with evidence. A police officer was investigating complaints of drug activity. He observed the defendant in a high crime and drug area. The defendant had a few brief encounters with some individuals. The police officer assumed these were drug transactions but was not close enough to see any details. The police officer stopped the defendant and observed him apparently throw something into his mouth and swallow it. The police officer assumed it was crack cocaine and arrested the defendant. After his arrest, the defendant admitted to buying the crack cocaine and swallowing it when the police officer approached him.
This confession was clearly sufficient to establish that the defendant possessed crack cocaine and tampered with the evidence by swallowing it. However, the confession was thrown out because the state could not prove the elements of any crime without the confession. The police officer made assumptions as to what the defendant was doing, and he was right based on the confession, but the police officer did not have any actual evidence that the defendant committed a crime so the confession was not admissible.