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The Rule of Corpus Delicti

Older Man Smoking Marijuana Joint

Joseph Connell, a former police officer with the Flagstaff Police Department, was fired after admitting to smoking marijuana in the past, but a judge ruled corpus delicti in the case.


Joseph Connell was a former officer with the Flagstaff Police Department and was fired for his admission of smoking marijuana with a “hot chick” at the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival in 2011. Although, Connell would pass subsequent drug test he was ultimately fired from the police department for violating Peace Officer Standard and Training (POST) and Flagstaff Police Department standards.However, the Arizona Daily Sun reports that Connell will retain his POST certification allowing him to serve as a peace officer in Arizona; thus, allowing Connell the ability to look for a job as a police officer in Arizona.

Ultimately, the administrative law judge allowed Connell to retain his POST certification because the state failed to prove that Connell smoked marijuana. Although, Connell admitted to smoking marijuana there is no physical evidence proving that what Connell smoked was in fact marijuana. The administrative law judge was applying the concept of corpus delicti to the case. The term corpus delicti is latin for the body of the crime. The concept of corpus delicti provides “that before the state can use a defendant’s incriminating statement at trial, the state must provide evidence independent of the confession or admission that tends to indicate that the defendant committed the crimes charged.” State v. Daugherty, 173 Ariz. 548, 551, 845 P.2d 474 (Ariz. App. Div. 1, 1992). The rationale behind Arizona adoption of the rule of corpus delicti was the understanding that “confessions may be untrustworthy because of involuntariness (due to improper police conduct) or unreliability (due to the mental instability of the accused). Id. at 551.

Arizona and other jurisdictions developed the concept of corpus delicti from English Common Law. English Courts had many famous cases where an alleged murder was executed based on their confession, soon after the execution the “victim” would suddenly reappear. Thus, English Courts required independent evidence of the murder, the corpus delicti, i.e. the corpse of the murdered person presented as evidence.

Similarly, the corpus delicti rule has been applied to confession in Arizona. Confession in Arizona are admissible “only when the state establishes the corpus delicti—‘the body of the crime’—by presenting evidence that is sufficient, independent of the confessions, to warrant a reasonable inference” that the charged crime has occurred and the defendant is responsible.” In Connell’s case, corpus delicti would require that AZ POST prove with additional evidence that Connell smoked marijuana, such as urine testing, witnesses and/or additional physical evidence. Read the full Arizona Daily Sun Article here.

If you believe that your rights have been violated by the police department and your confession was not voluntarily contact the Law Offices of Gonzales and Poirier at 928-774-5400 and ask to speak to one of our attorneys Matt, Tony or Daniel. We assist people throughout the State of Arizona and have offices in Flagstaff and Cottonwood, Arizona.

Daniel Tom, Esq.

About Gonzales & Poirier, PLLC

The Law Offices of Gonzales & Poirier provide legal services in Flagstaff, Arizona. If you are in need of a lawyer, please contact our firm today about your case by calling (855) 774-5400. We offer free consultations 24/7, affordable rates, and have payment plans available.
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