Criminal Law

359. Corpus Delicti: Independent Evidence of a Charged Crime

The defendant may not be convicted of any crime based on (his/ her) out-of-court statement[s] alone. Unless you conclude that other evidence shows someone committed the charged crime [or a lesser included offense], you may not rely on any out-of-court statement[s] by the defendant to convict (him/her) [of that crime or lesser offense].

The other evidence may be slight and need only be enough to support a reasonable inference that someone's criminal conduct caused an injury, loss, or harm. The other evidence does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the charged crime actually was committed.

The identity of the person who committed the crime [and the degree of the crime] may be proved by the defendant's statement[s] alone.

You may not convict the defendant unless the People have proved (his/her) guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Bench Notes

Instructional Duty

The court has a sua sponte duty to instruct on corpus delicti whenever an accused's extrajudicial statements form part of the prosecution's evidence. (People v. Howk (1961) 56 Cal.2d 687, 707 [16 Cal.Rptr. 370, 365 P.2d 426].)

The corpus delicti cannot be proved by statements made before or after the crime, but can be proved by statements made during the crime. (People v. Carpenter (1997) 15 Cal.4th 312, 394 [63 Cal.Rptr.2d 1, 935 P.2d 708].)

Give the bracketed language in the first paragraph if the court will be instructing on lesser included offenses.

Related Instructions

Since the corpus delicti instruction concerns statements of guilt by the defendant, this instruction must always be given along with CALCRIM No. 358, Evidence of Defendant's Statements. If the statements are reported oral statements, the bracketed cautionary paragraph in CALCRIM No. 358 must also be given.


Instructional Requirements. People v. Ray (1996) 13 Cal.4th 313, 342 [52 Cal.Rptr.2d 296, 914 P.2d 846]; People v. Jennings (1991) 53 Cal.3d 334, 368 [279 Cal.Rptr. 780, 807 P.2d 1009]; People v. Howk (1961) 56 Cal.2d 687, 707 [16 Cal.Rptr. 370, 365 P.2d 426].

Burden of Proof. People v. Lara (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 658, 676.

Secondary Sources

1 Witkin & Epstein, California Criminal Law (3d ed. 2000) Elements, §§ 45-52.

2 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 30, Confessions and Admissions, §§ 30.04[2], 30.57 (Matthew Bender).

4 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 85, Submission to Jury and Verdict, § 85.04[2][c], Ch. 87, Death Penalty, § 87.13[17][e] (Matthew Bender).

6 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 140, Challenges to Crimes, § 140.01 (Matthew Bender).


Harm Caused by Criminal Conduct

The instruction states that the other evidence need only "be enough to support a reasonable inference that someone's criminal conduct caused an injury, loss, or harm." This is based in part on People v. Alvarez (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1161, 1171 [119 Cal.Rptr.2d 903, 46 P.3d 372], in which the court stated that "[t]here is no requirement of independent evidence 'of every physical act constituting an element of an offense,' so long as there is some slight or prima facie showing of injury, loss, or harm by a criminal agency." (Quoting People v. Jones (1998) 17 Cal.4th 279, 302, 303 [70 Cal.Rptr.2d 793, 949 P.2d 890].)

Scope of Corpus Delicti

The following are not elements of a crime and need not be proved by independent evidence: the degree of the crime charged (People v. Cooper

(1960) 53 Cal.2d 755, 765 [3 Cal.Rptr. 148, 349 P.2d 964]), the identity of the perpetrator (People v. Westfall (1961) 198 Cal.App.2d 598, 601 [18 Cal.Rptr. 356]), elements of the underlying felony when the defendant is charged with felony murder (People v. Cantrell (1973) 8 Cal.3d 672, 680- 681 [105 Cal.Rptr. 792, 504 P.2d 1256], disapproved on other grounds in People v. Wetmore (1978) 22 Cal.3d 318, 324 [149 Cal.Rptr. 265, 583 P.2d 1308] and People v. Flannel (1979) 25 Cal.3d 668, 684-685, fn. 12 [160 Cal.Rptr. 84, 603 P.2d 1]), special circumstances when the defendant is charged with a felony-based special circumstance murder as listed in Penal Code section 190.2(a)(17) (Pen. Code, § 190.41; see People v. Ray (1996) 13 Cal.4th 313, 341, fn. 13 [52 Cal.Rptr.2d 296, 914 P.2d 846]), the knowledge and intent required for aider-abettor liability (People v. Gutierrez (2002) 28 Cal.4th 1083, 1128-1129 [124 Cal.Rptr.2d 373, 52 P.3d 572]; People v. Ott (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 118, 131 [148 Cal.Rptr. 479]), or facts necessary for a sentencing enhancement (see People v. Shoemake (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 243, 252-256 [20 Cal.Rptr.2d 36]).

Related Issues

Truth-in-Evidence Initiative

The "truth-in-evidence" provision of the California Constitution abrogates the corpus delicti rule insofar as it restricts the admissibility of incriminatory extrajudicial statements by an accused. (People v. Alvarez (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1161, 1173-1174 [119 Cal.Rptr.2d 903, 46 P.3d 372]; see Cal. Const., art. I, § 28(d) [Proposition 8 of the June 8, 1982 General Election].) The constitutional provision, however, does not eliminate the rule insofar as it prohibits conviction when the only evidence that the crime was committed is the defendant's own statements outside of court. Thus, the provision does not affect the rule to the extent it requires a jury instruction that no person may be convicted absent evidence of the crime independent of his or her out-of-court statements. (People v. Alvarez, supra, 27 Cal.4th at p. 1180.)

(New January 2006)