the body of evidence that constitute the offence; the objective proof that a crime has been committed (sometimes mistakenly thought to refer to the body of a homicide victim)
- Type of:
- evidence (law) all the means by which any alleged matter of fact whose truth is investigated at judicial trial is established or disproved
Sign up, it’s free!
Whether you’re a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you
on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.
Jump to navigation
Jump to search
Corpus delicti ( Latin : “body of the crime“; plural: corpora delicti) is a term from Western jurisprudence referring to the principle that a crime must be proved to have occurred before a person can be convicted of committing that crime.
For example, a person cannot be tried for larceny unless it can be proven that property has been stolen. Likewise, in order for a person to be tried for arson it must be proven that a criminal act resulted in the burning of a property. Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed.) defines “corpus delicti“ as: “the fact of a crime having been actually committed”.
In the Anglo-American legal system , the concept has its outgrowth in several principles. Many jurisdictions hold as a legal rule that a defendant ‘s out-of-court confession, alone, is insufficient evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.  A corollary to this rule is that an accused cannot be convicted solely upon the testimony of an accomplice. Some jurisdictions also hold that without first showing independent corroboration that a crime happened, the prosecution may not introduce evidence of the defendant’s statement.
- 1 Murder investigation
- 2 Specific offences
- 3 Misinterpretation
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Murder investigation[ edit ]
Corpus delicti is one of the most important concepts in a murder investigation. When a person disappears and cannot be contacted, many police agencies initiate a missing person case. If, during the course of the investigation, detectives believe that he/she has been murdered, then a “body” of evidentiary items, including physical, demonstrative and testimonial evidence, must be obtained to establish that the missing individual has indeed been murdered before a suspect can be charged with homicide .  The best and easiest evidence establishment in these cases is the physical body of the deceased. However, in the event that a physical body is not present or has not yet been discovered, it is possible to prove a crime took place if sufficient circumstantial evidence is presented to prove the matter beyond a reasonable doubt .  For example, the presence at a missing person’s home of spilled human blood, identifiable as that person’s, in sufficient quantity to indicate exsanguination , demonstrates—even in the absence of a corpse—that the possibility that no crime has occurred, and the missing person is merely missing, is not reasonably credible.
Specific offences[ edit ]
In general, all corpus delicti requires at a minimum:
- The occurrence of the specific injury; and
- some criminal act as the source of the injury.
- Homicide: 1) An individual has died 2) as a result of action (or inaction) by another person.
- Larceny: 1) Property is missing 2) because it was stolen.
In essence corpus delicti of crimes refers to evidence that a violation of law occurred, no literal ‘body’ is needed.
Rights are of two kinds, namely “of the person” ( jura personarum ) and “to control external objects” ( jura rerum ).
Wrongs are also of two kinds and they are either public or private. Public wrongs are called crimes or public offenses whereas private wrongs are called torts and either involve the breach of a duty of care, a wrongful trespass against the person or property of another, and breaches of agreement or contract. This difference forms the distinction between criminal law (regarding crime) and civil law (regarding torts).
For a more in-depth explanation, see Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries , Book 1 beginning about page 52.
Misinterpretation[ edit ]
The British serial killer John George Haigh destroyed the bodies of his victims with acid apparently because he thought that, in the absence of a corpse , murder could not be proven because there was no corpus delicti. Haigh had misinterpreted the Latin word corpus as a literal body rather than a figurative one. This had previously been the case, under Lord Hale’s Rule of “no body, no crime”, but in the twentieth century, the law expanded to allow prosecution for murder solely on circumstantial evidence.
See also[ edit ]
- Corroboration in Scots law
- Element (criminal law)
- Murder conviction without a body
References[ edit ]
- ^ See, e.g., Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 497 n.14, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963 (citing to corpus delicti rule and stating: “For the history and development of the corroboration requirement, see 7 Wigmore, Evidence [3d ed. 1940], §§ 2070–2071; Note, Proof of the Corpus Delicti Aliunde the Defendant’s Confession, 103 U. of Pa. L. Rev. 638–649 . For the present scope and application of the rule, see 2 Underhill, Criminal Evidence [5th ed. 1956], §§ 402–403. For a comprehensive collection of cases, see Annot., 45 A. L. R.2d 1316 .”)
- ^ Press, Margaret. A Scream on the Water: A True Story of Murder in Salem.
- ^ B. Berg, Criminal Investigation, McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2007
External links[ edit ]
- The dictionary definition of corpus delicti at Wiktionary
- Criminal law
- Evidence law
- Latin legal terminology
- This page was last edited on 11 July 2018, at 09:14 (UTC).
- Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License ;
- About Wikipedia
- Contact Wikipedia
- Cookie statement
- Mobile view
Definition of ‘corpus delicti’
corpus delicti in British
New Latin, literally: the body of the crime
corpus delicti in American
; dəlikˈtīˌ; dɪˈlɪkˌti
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
ModL, lit., body of the crime
Trends of ‘corpus delicti’
Used Rarely. corpus delicti is in the lower 50% of commonly used words in the Collins dictionary
View usage for:
Nearby words of ‘corpus delicti’
- corpus callosum
- corpus cavernosum
- Corpus Christi
- corpus delicti
- corpus juris
- Corpus Juris Canonici
- Corpus Juris Civilis
All ENGLISH words that begin with ‘C’
Collins English Dictionary
Amaze your friends with your new-found knowledge!