The Corpus Delicti Rule

A recent Court of Appeals decision, Shinnock v. State, 18A05-1606-CR-1258 (opinion can be found here: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/02091701jts.pdf), highlights the little-known Corpus Delicti Rule in the course of some very unfortunate facts. This case was tried in the Delaware County Circuit Court No. 2. It should be noted that this opinion is still subject to appeal by the State of Indiana to the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Corpus Delicti Rule exists so that people are not convicted of crimes solely based on a nonjudicial confession of guilt. Independent proof of the corpus delicti is required before the defendant may be convicted upon a nonjudicial confession.Green v. State, 304 N.E.2d 845, 848 (1973). Proof of the corpus delicti means “proof that the specific crime charged has actually been committed by someone.” Walker v. State, 233 N.E.2d 483, 488 (1968). Before a confession or an incriminating statement may be admitted, there must be some independent evidence of the commission of the crime charged. Workman v. State, 716 N.E.2d 445, 447 (Ind. 1999).

Although the facts of this particular case are disturbing, this is one of the rare occasions that a court has reversed a conviction because the State failed to show a corpus delicti, or independent evidence that a crime had, in fact, been committed. These issues are more frequently seen in appeals of driving cases, such as operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI), driving while suspended (DWS) or operating a vehicle as an habitual traffic violator (HTV) where no one actually witnessed the defendant driving a car, but the defendant then admits to an investigating officer or another witness that they were, in fact, operating a vehicle. Typically, courts have rejected these sorts of arguments and Shinnock may give the Indiana Supreme Court a greater opportunity to clarify the full scope of the corpus delicti rule.