A few questions about "Corpus delicti"

Based on what you think ought to happen?

Based on corpus delicti. You can’t be convicted of a non-existent crime. Yes, the system can go wrong, but it is already incredibly improbable that the state charges someone with a crime without evidence and then a judge allows a defendant to plead guilty in the first place, much less the judge accepting that plea. You expect that would not be overturned on appeal?

I think the concept does apply at earlier stages although it might not necessarily be referred to as “corpus delicti”. For example, police need probable cause to arrest someone. One definition of “probable cause” is " a basis for believing that a crime may have been committed". Now , that reasonable basis may be that someone reported to the police that he was robbed at a specific time and place , but the police don’t arrest someone who comes in and confesses to a crime without at least some indication that a crime was committed.


A person’s confession is evidence. There’s a special rule that says an out of court confession can’t be the only evidence that a crime even occurred. It varies by jurisdiction exactly how that rule plays out, but it does not apply to arrests or, in most jurisdictions, to anything pretrial.

Also, in practice, this doesn’t tend to play out by a person going up to an officer and saying “I’m a murderer, arrest me.” And then getting arrested and prosecuted.

It probably plays out most often in the accomplice scenario. But sticking to confessions, an example based in reality would be a serial killer who confessed to an additional killing, and was specific as to place and fairly specific as to timing and description of the victim. The police would probably have to match the description up to a missing person, plus come up with something more, or recover a body, for the killer to be convicted at trial. But he could be charged right away, at least under federal law, and I think in most jurisdictions.

Right. That’s why I wrote:

That’s what I was referring to, a guilty plea without a confession.

A guilty plea is an admission in court to the charged crime, as alleged in the charging instrument. No further evidence is required. If it’s a no contest or Alford plea, then the prosecution needs to give a factual basis, but the defendant isn’t going to object, or there’d be no plea deal.

Let’s use assault/battery as the example (since it’s a crime that, like most violent crimes, would be pretty much impossible to get evidence for unless you can find out who the victim is.)

Suppose Kevin calls the FBI: “Hey, my coworker John Doe says he once stabbed someone many years ago” (no further details, since Kevin knows nothing further. Let’s assume that stabbing has no statute of limitations.)

The FBI then goes knocking on John Doe’s door with a warrant and he is brought to arraignment. The charging instrument says “assault and battery.” John pleads guilty (whether that means checking a box on a form, or signing his name on some document, etc.) - however, John himself provides no details on the crime either.

In such a case, there would be two pieces of evidence at play - Kevin’s informant tip, and John’s own guilty plea. But there would still be no info on even who the victim is, when it happened (aside from “it was a long time ago,”) or where it happened. With such scant evidence, even the in-court confession (guilty plea) coupled with the informant’s tip wouldn’t make such a conviction “count,” right? There still has to be some version of corpus delicti that would come into play here.

There’s just a lot about that scenario that doesn’t work, without even getting to CD. You can’t have a charging instrument that just says “assault and battery.” You can’t plead guilty to it by checking a box on a form. There’s a colloquy, and the judge has to accept the plea as knowing and voluntary. You might not be able to plead at the arraignment. Your lawyer will advise against it and explain why. If you choose to go without a lawyer, there’s another colloquy for a knowing and intelligent waiver.

If, after all that is done, you still want to plead guilty and admit in court that you did what you are charged with and you are waiving your right to contest it, and the charging instrument itself is sufficient, (discussed above, plus I left out jurisdiction) then you probably won’t be able to turn around and challenge it on appeal, because you didn’t challenge it below.

None of that is actually about application of CD rule, because it would not apply to your in court admission to having committed the crime as charged.