Ob Populus

The Corpus Delicti Requirement

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Casey Anthony has been booked into the Orange ...

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Most of the nation is up in arms over the Casey Anthony verdict of not guilty in the murder of her two-year old daughter Caylee as all signs point to her as the culprit in the little girl’s death. However, the prosecution overlooked one basic legal concept and their failure to address it insured an acquittal from the very start of the trial; and that is the Corpus Delicti requirement.

Simply put “Corpus Delicti” requires in order for a conviction to be obtained, all essential elements of the crime must be proved. In murder cases, a popular misconception with Corpus Delicti is that a person could not be prosecuted for murder if the body was never found. That is not so as one can be convicted for murder without a body ever being recovered. A case can be made as long as you know how the person died. So if a person is pushed out of a plane at high altitude over the Atlantic Ocean and the body is never recovered, a criminal case can proceed against the murderer. However, if you find a person’s remains and cannot establish the cause of death, one cannot pursue a murder case. This is the elemental mistake made by the prosecution in the Casey Anthony homicide trial as they had theories about her daughter Caylee’s death but no proof as to the actual cause.

The prosecution believed that Caylee was murdered by the use of duct tape and chloroform. There was evidence of Casey Anthony searching for these items and even purchasing them. The prosecution had an excellent theory and in all likelihood was correct in their assertion about Caylee’s death. Yet, their case was bound to unravel because they could not link their theory to the child’s death.

Yes, she was dead but the cause remained a mystery. She could have been murdered as the prosecution suggested or she could have died in a terrible tragic accident as the defense implied. With the burden of proof upon the prosecution (and a high burden at that as the prosecution must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt) proving Caylee’s death a homicide at the hands of her mother, the jury’s decision although mind-boggling to many was just under the circumstances as the prosecution did not establish the cause of death, an indispensable requirement under Corpus Delicti.

Knowing the fatal weakness in their case, one wonders why the prosecution decided to proceed at this point in time. Homicide cases generally do not have a statute of limitations issue – the time period a case must be brought under – so outside public pressure, there was no glaring need to bring these charges forward. Sometimes time is your best friend.

Casey Anthony was not going anywhere. Besides, the prosecution had ancillary charges to bring against her that would insure she was locked away in prison while they continued to build their homicide case – lying to investigators about her child’s disappearance, charges that she was ultimately convicted on. Those charges could and should have been brought separately against her. With Casey safely housed in prison for misleading investigators, the murder case against her could have been further developed either through the advancement of technology to tie down the manner of death of Caylee or through tried and true police investigatory methods.

One such method is the use of the prison snitch, the person who reports what an inmate tells them in exchange for a reduced sentence. People talk and reveal things that they should not be revealing. Murderers are no different. There is a chance that Casey would have spilled the beans as to what really happened. Now, no matter what is learned about Caylee’s death, her mother cannot be retried as that would violate the Constitution’s provision against Double Jeopardy, being tried twice for the same offense. And, again, the real shame is that there was no compelling need to proceed to trial at this juncture.

There is a legal saying that justice delayed is justice denied. Well, conversely, a rush to judgment can be similarly debilitating. Knowing how Caylee Anthony died was an essential element to the charge of murder against Casey Anthony, the Corpus Delicti. And not knowing how the child died was a fatal flaw to the prosecution’s case.

Which begs the question, why the rush to charge and try an unwinnable case?

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