Being in court is complicated and confusing, but the process leading up to it is even more so. However you found yourself a part of the process (as a witness, the accused, or offering a statement to law enforcement), it is important to know what to expect. In this blog, we will be looking at what makes a confession, a witness, and the process of recanting a statement. Read on to learn about:
- Types of Confessions and Types of Witnesses: Where You Stand in the Court Process;
- Corpus Delicti and its Application in the Legal System;
Two Components of a Court Case: The Confession and Witness
When looking at both possible defendants and witnesses, it is important to understand what courts or lawyers may look at when evaluating both.
We’ve discussed many times in our blog a criminal defense lawyer’s inclination to look at any confessions ahead of a trial to check for any foul play. Terms exist that describe the types of confessions a person may give under duress or make of their own volition.
An example of the latter would be a voluntary confession, but there also exist voluntary false confessions made by people who have no link to a crime but choose to confess for their own reasons. Famous examples include the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932, where hundreds of people reportedly confessed to the crime despite not having anything to do with it. The same happened with the Jon Benet Ramsey case, where a woman in Thailand confessed to the six-year-old’s murder.
As the examples suggest, many instances of voluntary false confessionals come in response to highly publicized cases that make the media circuit. Those confessing may want to get their own corner of the spotlight or make some money off it.
Other forms of confessions are much more negative in their connotations and involve some sort of interference from law enforcement. However, as we’ll talk about later, there are other situations where confessions or statements may fall into any of the following:
- Coerced Confessions: a confession coaxed out of an individual through intimidation or false promises. The person confessing may admit to something they did not even do just to go home, get a lighter sentence, or dodge any aggression by police. Coercion tactics vary but may grow intense enough to the point where someone chooses to make a false confession.
- Tortured Confessions: as the name suggests, a tortured confession comes as the byproduct of torture.
- Coerced-Internalized Confessions: a confession made after coercion where the defendant believes they committed said crime. After hours of interrogation and stress, this may occur that causes a person to “break” and confess. However, rather than doing it because they think it’ll provide momentary relief, doubt sets in, and they may assume the accusations as truths.
When examining a case, lawyers look into confessions thoroughly. In some cases, they can get a case thrown out altogether if they believe a confession was obtained through extrajudicial means. In others, they may advise a client to recant a statement—more on that later.
On the other hand of the legal system are witnesses. As you might’ve seen in courtroom dramas, lawyers prepare a witness list to help prove their side of a case to a jury. The three common types of witnesses may add something different to a lawyer’s presentation of their argument:
- Eye Witnesses are individuals who observed or participated in an alleged crime. Several consistent witness testimonies typically prove more successful in validating a lawyer’s argument. Eyewitnesses are sometimes considered unreliable if they can’t stand up to questioning and fall apart in the process.
- Lawyers call Expert Witnesses to testify to provide professional knowledge on a given matter. This helps contextualize and ground the case in research, experience, and proven fact.
- Defense attorneys often deploy Character Witnesses to speak to a defendant’s history of behavior. If this is called into question, a character witness may have the opportunity to answer questions about their moral character to demonstrate innocence or for positive reflection on future incidents.
A Brief Look at Corpus Delicti: A Legal Principle
Before we move forward, let us quickly examine the legal principle of corpus delicti: one that relates directly to the weight of confessions and statements.
Corpus delicti means “body of the law” in Latin, but in legal terms means that the alleged crime itself must have occurred independently of any admissions of guilt or convictions. For example, if someone confesses to a hit and run, but there’s no evidence of said hit and run happening, the person can’t face any charges.
How does this apply to the last section’s contents? If law enforcement coerces a person into making a false confession (or they do so of their own volition), they can’t hold charges against them unless they can confirm a crime was committed in the first place.
A defense attorney may use this against prosecution if they find that their case is not corroborated by independent evidence.
This is not often used, though, because it is fairly easy for law enforcement to fulfill. For one, prosecutors just need evidence that the crime was committed by someone, not necessarily the accused.
Still, in the event you make a coerced confession to a crime, law enforcement cannot prove it occurred, you may have more options at your disposal.
If you fall into either category, be headstrong with how you approach either a confession or statement. Many may think they look like they are incriminating themselves by calling a lawyer regardless of whether they are a potential defendant or witness. Take our word, though: you never look like a criminal for wanting someone on your side. Most importantly, you need to understand that you do not need to speak to the authorities without the presence of an attorney.
You can avoid all of this by seeking out legal assistance in taking steps forward. Whether you are a witness, victim, or accused of a crime, you should always have a lawyer by your side to help you push through the difficult and confusing times. If this applies to you, contact our offices for a free initial consultation. Our compassionate and experienced lawyers understand the law applies to a vast array of situations and will adapt quickly to help you with yours.