corpora delicti

Corpus delicti

[kawr-puhs di-lik-tahy]
Corpus delicti (plural: corpora delicti) (Latin: "body of crime") is a term from Western jurisprudence which refers to the principle that it must be proven that a crime has occurred before a person can be convicted of committing the 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 not sufficient evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a 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.

Specific Offenses

General- All corpus delicti requires at a minimum the 1. The occurrence of the specific injury; and 2) some criminal agency as the source of the injury.

  • Homicide - 1. An individual has died; and 2. By a criminal act.
  • Larceny - 1. Property missing; and 2. Because it was stolen


Evidence in the case of British serial killer John George Haigh indicated that he decided to destroy the bodies of his victims with acid because he had the mistaken belief 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.

Corpus Delicti, body of the crime, refers to an act or omission to act (failure to act), and it also requires criminal agency to be in the mind. That is, there must be intent, criminal negligence, or strict liability. Strict liability refers to managers or supervisors not properly supervising their subordinates. An example is the train wreck in Los Angeles which involved a Metrolink train and a freight train. Since the Metrolink engineer failed to stop, causing the wreck, he is blamed for the situation, but since the engineer is deceased, he could not be charged. Therefore, under strict liability, the managers and supervisors of Metrolink can be held liable for damages because they did not adequately supervise their subordinate, the engineer.

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