corpus delicti

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Corpus delicti is a common law Latin phrase that translates to “body of the crime.” The phrase generally refers to the principle that no one should be convicted of a crime without sufficient evidence that the crime actually occurred. The rule began in part to prevent the government from punishing individuals for a crime solely based on their confession, which in many cases were false and driven by coercion. In modern practice, corpus delicti requires that the government have enough evidence showing that the essential parts of a crime occurred before they can even charge an individual. If the corpus delicti bar has not been satisfied, the government cannot prosecute an individual. Much litigation arises on exactly how much corroborating evidence must show a crime actually occurred before corpus delicti is satisfied and rules vary based on the jurisdiction and the nature of the case. Some states require or used to require that corpus delicti be proven completely separate from the statements of the accused. However, some states such as California allow the statements to be considered alongside some corroborative evidence, and if the statements occurred during the commission of the crime, there may be no requirement for corroborative evidence at all. 

[Last updated in February of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]