The Corpus Delecti Rule
Florida is one of a few jurisdictions where the “corpus delecti” rule still applies to the benefit of criminal defendants. In a nutshell, “The rule provides that before an admission may be allowed into evidence, the State has the burden of offering direct or circumstantial evidence independent of the admission that establishes the corpus delicti of the crime charged.” State v. Allen, 335 So. 2d 823, 825 (Fla. 1976). The corpus delecti is substantial evidence tending to show the commission of the charged crime. This standard does not require the proof to be uncontradicted or overwhelming, but it must at least show the existence of each element of the crime.
As Applied to Juvenile Possession of a Firearm
The Second DCA has applied this rule to a juvenile’s possession of a firearm. Essentially, it is illegal for a juvenile to simply possess a firearm, with a few exceptions, and entirely illegal for a person under 24-years-old to possess a firearm if they have been previously adjudicated delinquent to a charge that would have been a felony if charged as an adult. An element of either charge is actual possession of the firearm.
In A.P. v. State, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D1508a (Fla. 2d DCA 2018), the defendant was charged with such possession. However, the weapon was found on the floor of a car that was jointly occupied by A.P. and at least one other individual. As such, it was your classic constructive possession scenario. The State failed to produce any evidence of possession by any of the individuals such as fingerprints, DNA, or statements by a co-defendant. However, A.P. did admit to ownership of the firearm.
The Court (Hillsborough Judge Twine Thomas) allowed the admission into evidence. The Second DCA indicated that this was in error:
“The evidence here showed that A.P. and two passengers were together in the car, and A.P. was driving. The gun was hidden from sight under the floor mat of the front passenger seat. We have repeatedly held that mere proximity to contraband in a jointly occupied car is not sufficient to sustain a conviction based on constructive possession. See K.A.K, 885 So. 2d at 407-08. Thus, the only independent proof remaining to support any of the inferences necessary to establish constructive possession is A.P.’s admission. This brings us full circle to Ras, which, as stated above, teaches us that this will not do. See Ras, 610 So. 2d at 25; see also Harrison v. State, 483 So. 2d 757, 758 (Fla. 2d DCA 1986) (holding that the corpus delicti doctrine prohibited the appellant’s conviction for possession of a firearm where there was no proof of actual or constructive possession of the firearm apart from the appellant’s confession).”
As such, while it is certainly best to simply abide by the law and, should you fail there, to not say anything without an attorney present, it is possible to avoid a conviction by properly excluding from evidence an admission using the corpus delecti rule to your advantage.
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