By: Atty. Jay Dejaresco
What does corpus delicti mean?
Corpus means corpse or body. Delicti means ‘delict’ or crime.
The body of the crime.
The court defines it that way.
Corpus delicti has been defined as the body, foundation, or substance of a crime.
As applied to a particular offense, it means the actual commission by someone of the particular crime charged
In murder cases, it is easy to visualize the “body” of the crime, or the corpus delicti, to the physical body of the (slain) victim itself.
For instance, the evidence of a dead body with a gunshot wound on its back would be evidence that murder has been committed.
However, this is not necessarily true all the time.
What if there is no body? Does this mean there is no crime?
Sometimes a person accused of murder can raise the defense that if there is no dead body, there cannot be a crime.
This probably was lifted, and proceeds from Francisco, a legal authority, in his book on Criminal Evidence, who stated in his book: “A conviction of murder cannot be supported unless the body has been found or there is equivalent proof of death.”
But to say that ‘there is no crime because the body of the victim was not found” is not really an accurate statement.
Corpus delicti in its legal sense refers to the fact of the commission of the crime, NOT to the physical body of the deceased
Proof of slain body is not the same as proof of corpus delicti.
For purposes of conviction, the former can be dispensed with. The latter cannot.
If there are ashes that resemble that of burned human remains, there is no longer any physical human body.
Yet, the crime of murder can still be established even if there is no longer any dead body.
Case in point is the celebrated case and conviction of rape and murder in Cebu of PacoLarranaga, accused of raping and killing Chiong sisters.
The body of one victim Jacqueline was not recovered.
Corpus delicti has two elements.
The first element is that a certain result has been established.
Example of a certain result established is that a man has died.
The second element of corpus delictiis that someperson is criminally responsible for it.
Wharton, authority on the law on evidence notes that in a case of murder or homicide, it is not necessary to recover the body or to show where it can be found.
There are cases like death at sea, where the finding or recovery of the body is impossible.
It is enough that the deathand the criminal agency causing it be proven.
There are even cases where said deathand the intervention of the criminal agency that caused it may be presumed or established by circumstancial evidence.
The rule now established by the weight of authority is that the element of death in the corpus delicti may be established by circumstancial evidence.
Hence, in the case of the destruction of the body, or in the case of its disappearance, as in murder upon the high seas, where the body is rarely, if ever, found, death may be proved circumstantially.
To establish the corpus delicti by circumstancial evidence, facts are admissible, to show the impossibility of rescue, as at sea; to show the existence and extent of wounds, and deceased’s condition of health; and to show that the wound was sufficient to cause death, and that the party was reported dead.
For instance, death is sufficiently shown by the testimony of a witness that he saw the flash and heard the report, and that the deceased fell to the ground, declaring he was shot, and that accused did the shooting.
The more modern rule is that the fact of death as well as the other branch of the corpus delicti may be established by circumstancial or presumptive evidence
It is held that, where the body has been destroyed or is not recovered, it is competent to establish both elements by presumptive evidence .