Lemons v. State

Decision Date01 September 1981
Docket NumberNo. 1591,1591
Citation49 Md.App. 467,433 A.2d 1179
PartiesMarvin Cecil LEMONS v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Peter M. Levin, Assigned Public Defender, with whom was Alan H. Murrell, Public Defender, on the brief, for appellant.

Diane G. Goldsmith, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom were Stephen H. Sachs, Atty. Gen., William A. Swisher, State's Atty. for Baltimore City, and Charles P. Lamasa, Asst. State's Atty. for Baltimore City, on the brief, for appellee.

Argued before THOMPSON, MELVIN and COUCH, JJ.

MELVIN, Judge.

On May 9, 1980, the grand jury of the City of Baltimore filed in the Criminal Court of Baltimore indictment no. 18013002, charging the appellant, Marvin Cecil Lemons, with the first degree murder of one Debbie Kelly "in the month of October", 1968. Prior to trial, the indictment was amended, without objection, to allege the date of the murder as being November 4, 1971. During the trial, it was again amended (this time over appellant's objection) to allege the date of the murder as being December 14, 1969.

On June 25, 1980, a jury found the appellant guilty of first degree murder and he was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.

In this appeal he argues, among other things, that "the evidence adduced at trial was not sufficient to support appellant's conviction as there was not adequate evidence of corpus delicti independent of appellant's statements." Because we agree with this contention, the judgment of conviction must be reversed.

The Law

It is well established in this State and the vast majority of jurisdictions elsewhere that a defendant's extrajudicial confession standing alone is, as a matter of law, insufficient to support a criminal conviction. To warrant a conviction, such a confession must be accompanied or as the rule is typically phrased, "corroborated" by some independent evidence. The reason beneath this long-standing rule is that such a requirement is necessary to "protect the administration of the criminal laws against errors based upon untrue confessions alone." Wood v. State, 192 Md. 643, 649, 65 A.2d 316 (1949). More particularly, as Judge Moylan observed on behalf of this Court, "The thrust of the principle is to prevent mentally unstable persons from confessing to, and being convicted of, crimes that never occurred." Borza v. State, 25 Md.App. 391, 403, 335 A.2d 142, cert. denied, 275 Md. 746 (1975). That this concern is real and not frivolous is attested to by psychology and history alike. See Note, Proof of the Corpus Delicti Aliunde the Defendant's Confession, 103 U.Pa.L.Rev. 638 (1955). Hence, the so-called "corroboration rule" does not rest on idle musings about theorized possibilities but is founded upon sound principle grounded on fact.

Having stated the rule, identified its purpose and confirmed its propriety, we are nonetheless unprepared to apply it to the facts of the present case until we flesh out more precisely just what the corroboration rule requires. Given that a confession must be accompanied by other evidence, we must determine what is demanded of that other evidence both in terms of quality and quantity.

In terms of quality, it is first of all clear, by the very statement of the rule, that this required additional evidence must be, in some sense "corroborative." As to what is intended by the word "corroborative," in this context, two views have been expressed. The view adhered to by a minority of jurisdictions is that any evidence that tends to fortify the truth of the confession is "corroborative." On the other hand, according to the overwhelming majority of authority, to be "corroborative," in the sense intended by the rule, the evidence apart from the confession must fortify the truth of the confession in a particular way; i. e., it must relate to the corpus delicti. Annot., 45 A.L.R.2d 1316, 1327-29 (1956); VII J. Wigmore, Evidence § 2071 (Chadbourne rev. 1978); Perkins, The Corpus Delicti of Murder, 48 Va.L.Rev. 173 (1962); McCormick on Evidence, § 158 (Cleary, 2nd Ed. 1972).

As for Maryland, it is reasonably clear that at an early date the Court of Appeals adopted what is now referred to as the majority view. See Markley v. State, 173 Md. 309, 196 A. 95 (1938); Weller v. State, 150 Md. 278, 132 A. 624 (1926). In both Weller and Markley, the Court spoke of the need for independent evidence of the corpus delicti and, indeed, relied on such evidence in sustaining the convictions there appealed. Subsequently, however, a statement has found its way into the dicta of a number of Maryland cases, both from this Court and the Court of Appeals, that has generated some confusion. That statement, as it was phrased in its first Maryland appearance, is as follows:

"(C)ircumstances corroborating a confession need not independently establish the truth of the corpus delicti at all, either beyond a reasonable doubt or by a preponderance of proof, but any such circumstances will serve which in the judge's opinion go to fortify the truth of the confession." Wood v. State, 192 Md. at 650 (65 A.2d 316) (emphasis supplied) (citations omitted).

The State in the present case seems to read this quotation as standing for the proposition that Maryland has adopted the minority view of the corroboration rule; 1 admittedly, read in isolation, this statement would seem to be the epitome of that view. Nevertheless, viewing this statement in the context of the cases in which it appears and in light of other Maryland cases on the subject, we cannot accept the reading suggested by the State.

The statement found in Wood was adopted by the Court of Appeals from a seasoned opinion of Judge Learned Hand. Viewing that statement in its original context is instructive of the thought intended "The corroboration must touch the corpus delicti in the sense of the injury against whose occurrence the law is directed; in this case, an agreement to attack or set upon a vessel. Whether it must be enough to establish the fact independently and without the confession is not quite settled. Not only does this seem to have been supposed in some cases, but that the jury must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the corpus delicti without using the confessions, before they may consider the confessions at all. Gray v. Com., 101 Pa. 380, 47 Am.Rep. 733; State v. Laliyer, 4 Minn. 368 (Gil. 277); Lambright v. State, 34 Fla. 564, 16 So. 582; Pitts v. State, 43 Miss. 472. But such is not the more general rule, which we are free to follow, and under which any corroborating circumstances will serve which in the judge's opinion go to fortify the truth of the confession. Independently they need not establish the truth of the corpus delicti at all, neither beyond a reasonable doubt nor a preponderance of proof." Daeche v. United States, 250 F. 566, 571 (2d Cir. 1918) (emphasis added) (citations omitted).

Thus viewed, it is apparent that the portion of the above quotation that has been borrowed by the Maryland cases, such as Wood, supra, refers only to the quantity and not the quality of the corroborative evidence required. That is, it merely stands for the unremarkable proposition that corroborative evidence to be quantitatively sufficient need not, by itself, constitute full proof of the corpus delicti by any measure. It cannot be read more broadly to imply that the evidence apart from the confession to be deemed "corroborative" as a qualitative matter is not required to at least "touch" the corpus delicti, for that reading is specifically foreclosed by Judge Hand's prefatory declaration to the contrary.

That the Maryland cases attach the same restrictive meaning to the portion of the statement borrowed from Judge Hand's opinion in Daeche is evidenced in part by the fact that the vast majority of the Maryland cases involving the corroboration rule, including a number of cases that paraphrase the Daeche statement, specifically refer to the rule as requiring "independent evidence of the corpus delicti." See e. g., Hadder v. State, 238 Md. 341, 352-353, 209 A.2d 70 (1965); Koprivich v. State, 1 Md.App. 147, 154, 228 A.2d 476 (1967). Moreover, the State has referred us to no Maryland case and our research has not revealed any in which a conviction was affirmed in the absence of some evidence of the corpus delicti aside from the confession. Finally, we think it was made most clear that Maryland continues to adhere to the majority view when, in Johnson v. State, 238 Md. 140, 144, 207 A.2d 643 (1965), the Court of Appeals observed:

"To state that a confession must be 'corroborated' is misleading. What we have consistently held is that an extrajudicial confession of guilt by a person accused of crime, unsupported by other evidence, is insufficient to warrant a conviction, but that if there is evidence, independent of the confession, which relates to and tends to establish the corpus delicti, the conviction is justified." (Emphasis added) (citations omitted).

For these reasons, we conclude that in Maryland, as in the majority of other jurisdictions, evidence is only "corroborative," in the sense intended by the corroboration rule, if it touches or concerns the corpus delicti and in that way fortifies the truth of the accompanying confession. Evidence that may fortify the confession without relation to the corpus delicti will not be deemed "corroborative."

In addition to being "corroborative," in the sense of evidencing the corpus delicti to some extent, the evidence that is required to accompany an accused's confession must also be "independent" of that confession. See, e. g., Jones v. State, 188 Md. 263, 52 A.2d 484 (1947); Franklin v. State, 8 Md.App. 134, 140, 258 A.2d 767 (1969), cert. denied, 257 Md. 733 (1970). Stated otherwise, one portion of a confession cannot be used to corroborate another portion, even if the portion proposed for such use does tend to establish the corpus delicti. A confession simply cannot fortify its own truth. Likewise,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
25 cases
  • Hurley v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1984
    ...dead and that the death occurred under circumstances which would indicate that it was caused criminally. We said in Lemons v. State, 49 Md.App. 467, 433 A.2d 1179 (1981), cert. denied, 292 Md. 13 (1981), In a homicide case the proof of the corpus delecti is sufficient if it establishes the ......
  • Ball v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • February 2, 1984
    ...prevent a mentally unstable person from confessing to, and thereby being convicted of, a crime that never occurred. Lemons v. State, 49 Md.App. 467, 469, 433 A.2d 1179 (1981). The requirement that there be some corroborating evidence tending to establish the corpus delicti generally, does n......
  • Whittlesey v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1991
    ...proof of the corpus delicti independent of the admission, Bagley v. State, 232 Md. 86, 96, 192 A.2d 53, 59 (1963); Lemons v. State, 49 Md.App. 467, 473, 433 A.2d 1179, 1183, cert. denied, 292 Md. 13 (1981), which need not be by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Bagley, 232 Md. at 96, 192 A.2......
  • Howell v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1990
    ...Woods v. State, 315 Md. 591, 556 A.2d 236 (1958). See also McMillian v. State, 65 Md.App. 21, 499 A.2d 192 (1985); Lemons v. State, 49 Md.App. 467, 433 A.2d 1179 (1981). Accordingly, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to sustain appellant's conviction. We next address the appellan......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • State's Burden of Production As To Elements of the Crime
    • United States
    • Maryland State Bar Association Warnken's Maryland Criminal Procedure (MSBA) Chapter 25 Burden of Production
    • Invalid date
    ...evidence relating to the corpus delicti must be independent of the confession. See Wood v. State, 192 Md. 643 (1949); Lemons v. State, 49 Md. App. 467 (1981); Franklin, 8 Md. App. 134; accord Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Marcalus, 414 Md. 501 (2010); Woods v. State, 315 Md. ......
  • Voluntariness Under Fifth Amendment Privilege Against Compelled Self-Incrimination, Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause, And/Or Md. Decl. of Rights Art. 22
    • United States
    • Maryland State Bar Association Warnken's Maryland Criminal Procedure (MSBA) Chapter 13 Interrogations and Confessions
    • Invalid date
    ...the facts necessary to show that a crime has been committed." Birchead v. State, 317 Md. 691, 706-07 (1989). See also Lemons v. State, 49 Md. App. 467, 468-69 (1981); Wood v. State, 192 Md. 643, 649 (1949); Traverso v. State, 83 Md. App. 389, 396-97 (1990). In Borza v. State, 25 Md. App. 39......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT