State v. Weisser, No. 25,079.

Docket NºNo. 25,079.
Citation2007 NMCA 015, 150 P.3d 1043
Case DateDecember 22, 2006
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico
150 P.3d 1043
2007 NMCA 015
STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Jeffrey D. WEISSER, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 25,079.
Court of Appeals of New Mexico.
December 22, 2006.

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Patricia A. Madrid, Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, Max Shepherd, Assistant Attorney General, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellee.

John Bigelow, Chief Public Defender, Kathleen T. Baldridge, Assistant Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellant.

OPINION

PICKARD, Judge.


{1} Defendant was indicted for three counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor (CSCM). Defendant subsequently filed a pretrial motion to dismiss, arguing that the corpus delicti of CSCM could not be proved solely by his extrajudicial statements and that the State would fail to present any independent evidence that would otherwise establish the corpus delicti. The district court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss, finding that Defendant's statements were trustworthy and that additional independent evidence helped to establish the corpus delicti of CSCM. We reverse the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss. We also take this opportunity to clarify the law regarding extrajudicial statements and the application of the trustworthiness standard in New Mexico.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW

{2} Although the parties present slightly different chronologies of the events in this case, the material facts are undisputed. In 2001, Defendant was diagnosed with Huntington's Disease. Huntington's Disease is a

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fatal hereditary disease that affects motor skills and also causes judgment, memory, and other cognitive functions to deteriorate into dementia. Not long after he was diagnosed, Defendant told his girlfriend (Mother) that God was punishing him with Huntington's Disease because of what he did to their daughter. At that time, their daughter was two years old.

{3} When pressed by Mother, Defendant admitted to inappropriately touching their daughter and making their daughter touch him, but he did not disclose the exact areas of body contact. Defendant made similar statements to a counselor at the Veteran's Administration (VA) Hospital. The VA Hospital reported the allegations to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD). CYFD investigated the matter and criminal charges were filed against Defendant. During the criminal investigation of Defendant's statements, Defendant again made statements concerning his daughter to the police officers who interviewed him in his home.

{4} Not long after filing a police report, Mother took the daughter to the S.A.N.E. (Sexual Assault Nurse Examination) Program at St. Vincent's Hospital where the daughter was examined by a nurse. The examination revealed no physical evidence of sexual abuse. However, Mother did report to the S.A.N.E. nurse that the daughter was exhibiting several changes in her behavior, including nightmares and withdrawal from strangers, particularly male strangers. Of the twelve behaviors that could be corroborative of sexual abuse listed on the S.A.N.E. form, the nurse noted that the daughter experienced only these two behavioral symptoms.

{5} On the basis of Defendant's statements and the daughter's behavioral symptoms, Defendant was indicted for three counts of CSCM. Defendant subsequently moved to dismiss the criminal charges against him, arguing that the State failed to prove that the CSCM actually occurred. The State argued that Defendant's statements were themselves sufficiently trustworthy that, in addition to evidence that the daughter was exhibiting various behavior symptoms indicative of abuse, the corpus delicti of CSCM was established in this case. The district court agreed with the State and denied Defendant's motion to dismiss.

{6} After the denial of his motion to dismiss, Defendant entered a conditional no contest plea to the three counts of CSCM, expressly reserving the right to appeal the district court's ruling on the motion. This appeal follows.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

{7} To the extent that Defendant admits the veracity of the facts alleged in the State's pleadings and argues that such facts cannot establish the corpus delicti of CSCM as a matter of law, we will review the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss de novo. See State v. Roman, 1998-NMCA-132, ¶ 8, 125 N.M. 688, 964 P.2d 852; State v. Rendleman, 2003-NMCA-150, ¶ 27, 134 N.M. 744, 82 P.3d 554; State v. Wasson, 1998-NMCA-087, ¶¶ 5-6, 125 N.M. 656, 964 P.2d 820. However, we caution that not every challenge to the corpus delicti in a particular matter will rest on undisputed facts. Thus, where the determination of the corpus delicti rests on disputed facts, we will defer to the district court's findings of fact, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence. See State v. Jason L., 2000-NMSC-018, ¶ 10, 129 N.M. 119, 2 P.3d 856.

DISCUSSION

{8} On appeal, Defendant argues that the district court erred in concluding that the State presented sufficient evidence to establish the corpus delicti of CSCM. Defendant argues that corpus delicti of CSCM cannot be proved solely by his extrajudicial statements regarding his daughter. Rather, Defendant argues that the State must prove that his daughter was the victim of criminal sexual contact by at least some evidence independent of his extrajudicial statements. We agree that the corpus delicti of CSCM was not established in this case, and we reverse the denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss.

{9} We begin our opinion with a discussion of the term "corpus delicti" and the corpus

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delicti rule, which has traditionally governed the admissibility of extrajudicial confessions. Second, we address the rejection of the corpus delicti rule by the federal courts and numerous state courts in favor of the trustworthiness standard. Third, we discuss New Mexico's adoption of the trustworthiness standard and how it is applied by our courts. Finally, we apply New Mexico's standard to the facts of this case and conclude that the corpus delicti of CSCM was not established by the State.

A. The Traditional Corpus Delicti Rule

{10} The corpus delicti rule provides that "unless the corpus delicti of the offense charged has been otherwise established, a conviction cannot be sustained solely on [the] extrajudicial confessions or admissions of the accused." State v. Paris, 76 N.M. 291, 294, 414 P.2d 512, 514 (1966). The term "corpus delicti," which literally means "body of the crime," refers to the evidence needed to establish that the charged crime was actually committed. Black's Law Dictionary 369 (8th ed.2004); see also Doe v. State, 94 N.M. 548, 549, 613 P.2d 418, 419 (1980) ("The corpus delicti of a crime requires proof that the crime was committed."). Such evidence may or may not connect the defendant with the charged crime and thus should not be confused with the evidence required to prove a particular defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Chaves, 27 N.M. 504, 506, 202 P. 694, 694 (1921). We observe that

[g]enerally the prosecution bears the burden of proving three elements in a criminal trial: (1) that loss or harm occurred, (2) that someone's criminal agency caused the loss or harm, and (3) that the "someone" was or included the defendant. It is currently the rule among most jurisdictions requiring proof of the corpus delicti as a condition for admitting the defendant's confession that the "body of the crime" comprises the first two elements and not the third.

Thomas A. Mullen, Rule Without Reason: Requiring Independent Proof of the Corpus Delicti as a Condition of Admitting an Extrajudicial Confession, 27 U.S.F. L.Rev. 385, 388 (1993) (footnotes omitted); cf. State v. Nance, 77 N.M. 39, 44, 419 P.2d 242, 246 (1966) ("The corpus delicti of a particular offense is established simply by proof that the crime was committed; the identity of the perpetrator is not material."). Thus, the existence of the corpus delicti is demonstrated by the fact that a harm or injury occurred and that the harm or injury was caused by a criminal act. State v. McKenzie, 47 N.M. 449, 453, 144 P.2d 161, 164 (1943); see also State v. Sosa, 2000-NMSC-036, ¶ 20, 129 N.M. 767, 14 P.3d 32; 7 John H. Wigmore, Evidence in Trials at Common Law § 2072, at 524-25 (Chadbourn rev.1978).

{11} For example, in the present case, the corpus delicti of CSCM is established by evidence proving that (1) the daughter's intimate parts were touched by someone or that the daughter was forced to touch someone's intimate parts, and (2) that this harm was caused by someone's criminal agency. See McKenzie, 47 N.M. at 453, 144 P.2d at 164. Whether or not Defendant was the perpetrator is irrelevant for corpus delicti purposes. See Nance, 77 N.M. at 44, 419 P.2d at 246. The question then becomes what type of evidence can be used to establish the corpus delicti.

{12} According to the corpus delicti rule, the corpus delicti of a charged crime can be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence, State v. Maestas, 92 N.M. 135, 145, 584 P.2d 182, 192 (Ct.App.1978), but such evidence must be independent of a defendant's own extrajudicial statements. Nance, 77 N.M. at 44-45, 419 P.2d at 246. If the state can present sufficient independent evidence, apart from a defendant's confession, to establish the corpus delicti, the defendant's confession may then be used to sustain a conviction. See id. ("When there is, in addition to a confession, proof of the corpus delicti established by independent evidence, the defendant's voluntary confession will support a conviction.").

{13} The corpus delicti rule first developed in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. David A. Moran, In Defense of the Corpus Delicti Rule, 64 Ohio St. L.J. 817 (2003); Mullen, supra, at 399. The rule has its roots in a notorious English case

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in which an individual was convicted of murder solely on the basis of a confession, only to have the murder...

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36 practice notes
  • State v. Bishop, W2010–01207–SC–R11–CD.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 6 Marzo 2014
    ...other grounds by State v. Tollardo, 2012–NMSC–008, ¶ 37, 275 P.3d 110, 121 n. 6; State v. Weisser, 2007–NMCA–015, ¶¶ 17–25, 141 N.M. 93, 150 P.3d 1043, 1048–50. When the crime is of a type that does not result in a tangible injury, “the corroborative evidence must implicate the accused.” Un......
  • State v. Bregar, 34
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • 13 Diciembre 2016
    ...sustained solely on the extrajudicial confessions or admissions of the accused.’ " State v. Weisser , 2007–NMCA–015, ¶ 10, 141 N.M. 93, 150 P.3d 1043 (alteration omitted) (quoting State v. Paris , 1966–NMSC–039, ¶ 6, 76 N.M. 291, 414 P.2d 512 ). New Mexico courts apply the "modified trustwo......
  • State v. Dern, 106,406.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • 25 Noviembre 2015
    ...State v. Zysk, 123 N.H. 481, 465 A.2d 480 (1983) ; State v. Reddish, 181 N.J. 553, 859 A.2d 1173 (2004) ; State v. Weisser, 141 N.M. 93, 150 P.3d 1043 (Ct.App.2006) ; State v. Parker, 315 N.C. 222, 337 S.E.2d 487 (1985) ; Stout v. State, 693 P.2d 617 (Okla.Crim.App.1984), cert. denied 472 U......
  • State v. McGill, 109,789.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • 2 Mayo 2014
    ...to be submitted to the jury for a credibility determination); State v. Heiges, 806 N.W.2d 1 (Minn.2011); State v. Weisser, 141 N.M. 93, 150 P.3d 1043 (Ct.App.2006) (adopting a modified trustworthiness standard that requires corroboration demonstrating trustworthiness plus evidence of the ha......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
35 cases
  • State v. Bregar, NO. 34
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • 13 Diciembre 2016
    ...sustained solely on the extrajudicial confessions or admissions of the accused.’ " State v. Weisser , 2007–NMCA–015, ¶ 10, 141 N.M. 93, 150 P.3d 1043 (alteration omitted) (quoting State v. Paris , 1966–NMSC–039, ¶ 6, 76 N.M. 291, 414 P.2d 512 ). New Mexico courts apply the "modified trustwo......
  • State v. Bishop, No. W2010–01207–SC–R11–CD.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 6 Marzo 2014
    ...other grounds by State v. Tollardo, 2012–NMSC–008, ¶ 37, 275 P.3d 110, 121 n. 6; State v. Weisser, 2007–NMCA–015, ¶¶ 17–25, 141 N.M. 93, 150 P.3d 1043, 1048–50. When the crime is of a type that does not result in a tangible injury, “the corroborative evidence must implicate the accused.” Un......
  • State v. Dern, No. 106,406.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • 25 Noviembre 2015
    ...State v. Zysk, 123 N.H. 481, 465 A.2d 480 (1983) ; State v. Reddish, 181 N.J. 553, 859 A.2d 1173 (2004) ; State v. Weisser, 141 N.M. 93, 150 P.3d 1043 (Ct.App.2006) ; State v. Parker, 315 N.C. 222, 337 S.E.2d 487 (1985) ; Stout v. State, 693 P.2d 617 (Okla.Crim.App.1984), cert. denied 472 U......
  • State v. McGill, No. 109,789.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • 2 Mayo 2014
    ...to be submitted to the jury for a credibility determination); State v. Heiges, 806 N.W.2d 1 (Minn.2011); State v. Weisser, 141 N.M. 93, 150 P.3d 1043 (Ct.App.2006) (adopting a modified trustworthiness standard that requires corroboration demonstrating trustworthiness plus evidence of the ha......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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