On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court abandoned a 100-year-old rule pertaining to the evidence that a prosecutor must have in order to convict a person, but upheld an appellate court ruling that overturned a sexual assault case. Here are the details.
* According to the advance sheet headnotes for the case, People v. LaRosa, the supreme court stated that it abandoned the corpus delicti rule, which requires that prosecution prove a crime occurred using evidence other than a defendant's confession.
* Instead, the court stated, the trustworthiness standard would be applied, in which the prosecution must present evidence that proves the confession is trustworthy or reliable including facts that corroborate with the facts contained in the confession, that establish the crime or the facts under which the confession was made that show that the confession was reliable.
* The defendant, Jason LaRosa, confessed to his wife, mother, pastor, a police dispatcher and an investigating officer that he sexually assaulted his 2 1/2-year-old daughter, the court explained.
* LaRosa reportedly called an emergency dispatch operator in Florida to state that he had inappropriate sexual contact with his daughter and that he had already confessed to his wife, mother and pastor. He later confessed the inappropriate contact to an investigating officer and said he would return to Colorado and turn himself in to authorities, which he did.
* LaRosa was charged with various crimes and convicted of all charges by a jury. Before trial, he had filed a motion to dismiss the charges under the corpus delicti rule, arguing that his confessions were insufficient evidence because there was no physical evidence, no eyewitnesses and his daughter did not remember the incident. LaRosa stated that he confessed to fictitious events because he was tired and dealing with marital and financial problems.
* The court of appeals reversed LaRosa's convictions because the court presented only "opportunity evidence" -- that is, evidence that showed LaRosa had an opportunity to commit a crime, not that a crime actually occurred -- in addition to the confessions, rather than evidence that proved the crime as required by the corpus delicti rule.
* State prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court, who decided to consider the viability of the rule and whether it should, after a century, be abandoned.
* "We abandon the corpus delicti rule because we hold that sound reasons exist for doing so," stated the court's opinion, as delivered by Chief Justice Michael L. Bender.
* However, Bender wrote, though the court has agreed to favor the trustworthiness standard as an approach to using confessions as evidence and would normally apply it to the LaRosa case, to do so would be to violate the defendant's constitutional rights. The Constitution prohibits ex post facto laws, or laws passed after a crime has taken place that are used to convict a person.
* "Because LaRosa did not have fair warning of our decision," Bender wrote, "we hold that applying the trustworthiness standard here would violate his due process rights."
* In his dissent, Justice Nathan B. Coats stated that he believed the corpus delicti rule had already been tossed out by the supreme court in previous cases and he would have overturned the lower court and reinstated LaRosa's conviction. Justice Allison H. Eid agreed with this dissent.
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