Is a Confession to Dealing Drugs and Murder Enough to Convict?

Well, let’s begin with the line of what sounds like a joke: A guy named Joey walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder, and he says, “Hey, guys, I just sold 300 pounds of marijuana and four pounds of cocaine to somebody I didn’t know in the parking lot, then I murdered him, and got all the drugs back. I got rid of the body, too, by dumping it into a vat of acid. Ha! They’ll never find out about it.”

Now, let’s assume for the sake of argument that the statement was totally spontaneous, nobody deceived or tricked Joey to get him to say it, nobody made any threat or promises to obtain the statement, his physical and mental condition were both excellent, Joey was an adult with a master’s degree, and had a lot of experience with the law, in fact, he was a lawyer.

Now, even though Joey was just joking, some of the bar’s patrons were undercover cops, and they immediately arrested him. So, is this just a bad joke, or can the State of Utah actually prosecute Joey for possession of drugs, possession with intent to distribute, and murder? And, do the Utah Courts realize that defendants sometimes falsely confess?

While in jail, Joey swears he only made the statement to come across as a big shot.

Keep this in mind: Generally, to establish guilt in a criminal case, the prosecution must show that:

  1. The injury or harm specified in the crime occurred
  2. This injury or harm was caused by someone’s criminal activity; and,
  3. The defendant was the perpetrator.

State v. Mauchley case (67 P.3d 477)

By way of background, here is what the Utah Supreme Court said about certain confessions in the Mauchley case: “It is beyond dispute that some people falsely confess to committing a crime that was never committed or was committed by someone else.”

Now, that is really good language for a Defendant – beyond dispute! So, if you have wrongly confessed to something, you have the Utah Supreme Court to quote. The Utah Supreme Court also made it clear that some people are more likely than others to give a false confession: those who have mental diseases or deficiencies, those who lack fluency in the language in which they confess, and those who fail to comprehend the legal significance of their actions and words.

The bottom line here is that false confessions can and do happen. So, courts established a rule known as the corpus delecti rule. As one writer succinctly said, under that rule “the prosecution was required to prove by clear and convincing independent evidence that a crime had been committed before introducing a defendant’s confession. Patrick W. Corum, Significant Utah Criminal Law Decisions in 2003, Utah B.J., April 2004, at 28, 30.

Under that rule, Joey would clearly get off. Where’s the marijuana? the cocaine? the dead body? These don’t exist, so since there is no evidence of a crime, the confession must be tossed.

The Mauchley decision put it this way: “Under the corpus delicti rule for admission of confessions, in a homicide case, the State must produce evidence that a person died and that the death was caused by a criminal act, in order to establish that an injury or harm occurred by criminal means; once it produces such evidence, the State may then introduce a defendant’s confession to establish other elements of the crime, such as intent or malice.”

But the court then opted for a more modern rule, and said this:

“In cases where there is no evidence of a crime independent of the confession, the State may nevertheless establish the trustworthiness of the defendant’s confession, for purposes of admission under the trustworthiness standard for confessions, with other evidence typically used to bolster the credibility and reliability of an out-of-court statement, including evidence as to spontaneity of the statement, absence of deception, trick, threats, or promises to obtain the statement, defendant’s positive physical and mental condition, including age, education, and experience, and presence of attorney when statement was given.”

So, under the new rule, it is conceivable that Joey could be convicted based on his boastful claim.

Moral of the story: don’t be like Joey. If you are like Joey, call Greg Smith and Associates immediately at 801-651-1512.

Recent Post
Call Now