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False Confessions, Corpus Delicti and Pennsylvania Law

Over the summer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued two important rulings that will have an impact on the state’s legal system. However, the rulings send a mixed message at best, and are directly contradictory at worst.

In the first case, the Court ruled that experts on human memory, particularly as it applies to eyewitness testimony and identification, are allowed to testify in court cases. But in the second, justices determined that experts on the phenomenon of false confessions are not allowed to take the stand. Although research on human behavior supports both phenomena, the Court opted to ignore the prevailing science on false confessions.

Fortunately, a person cannot be convicted of a crime based on a confession alone. This is known as the corpus delicti rule. The Latin phrase translates loosely as “the body of the crime” — in other words, there must be other evidence to convict a person of a crime. A confession alone does not suffice. However, the problem is that, when a confession has been presented, the evidence merely needs to prove that someone committed the crime, not necessarily that it was the same person who confessed.

False confessions are typically provided in one of several circumstances. In some cases, the accused simply wants to put an end to questioning in the hopes of receiving more lenient treatment. In others, the accused believes he may have committed the crime but has no recollection of it. Still other cases involve making a false confession to save a friend or relative from punishment.

If you or someone you love has falsely confessed to a crime for any reason, seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer with the Law Office of David R. Eshelman as soon as possible. Be sure to have an attorney on your side representing your best interests at all times.

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