What is corpus delicti and what is required to establish corpus delicti?

Criminal Defense LawyerAnyone who has watched crime dramas on TV or heard a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer speak have heard a multitude of Latin words throughout their discussions, but some are not always completely understood. One such word is “corpus delicti.” Corpus delicti generally means the physical evidence of a crime, (i.e. the dead body in a murder). Recently, the 2nd District court dealt with an issue pertaining to corpus delicti in Reinlein v. State of Florida.

In this case, the Court had to determine whether the trial court erred in allowing the defendant’s post-Miranda testimony regarding his consumption of an illegal substance before the State established the corpus delicti of tampering with physical evidence.

The defendant was witnessed by police officers exchanging something in a high crime area. Because the actual transaction was not witnessed, they put a patrol car on the defendant’s vehicle to follow him; hoping he would commit a traffic violation and initiate a traffic stop. Several blocks from the drug transaction, the defendant was being pulled over when the officer saw the defendant make a motion as if placing an object in his mouth. The defendant exited the vehicle and was arrested. The only evidence the prosecution presented was the post-Miranda statement from the defendant that he purchased drugs and consumed the drugs before being stopped. The State charged the defendant with tampering with physical evidence.

The statute under which the defendant was charged is Fla. Stat. ยง 918.13(1)(a). The statute reads, in relevant part: No person, knowing that a criminal trial or proceeding or an investigation…shall: Alter, destroy, conceal, or remove any record, document, or thing with the purpose to impair its verity or availability in such proceeding or investigation. Additionally, Florida Courts have required defendant to known of an impending investigation and have destroyed the evidence to hinder that investigation.

In this case the defendant was pulled over several blocks from where the alleged drug buy took place. The State failed to provide substantial evidence that the defendant destroyed the drugs for the purpose of hindering the investigation. Furthermore, the exact drug transaction was not witnessed, the item eaten could not be determined, and no evidence of the drugs located in the vehicle.

This case demonstrates how every aspect of the criminal act must be proven before a conviction can be upheld. A Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer knows the law and the applicable standards the State must overcome to have a conviction. If you have been charged with a criminal offence or have criminal charges pending against you, contact a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer to discuss your case and to determine what the best course of action for moving forward.

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