Admissibility of a Confession

Under Florida law, a person’s confession to a crime is not sufficient evidence of a criminal act where no independent direct or circumstantial evidence exists to substantiate the occurrence of a crime.

For this reason, in criminal prosecutions, the State is required to prove the corpus delicti independent of the defendant’s confession before the confession may be admitted into evidence.

Section 92.565, entitled “admissibility of confession in sexual abuse cases,” contemplates an exception to this rule.

Attorney for the Sex Abuse Cases in Tampa, FL

If you were accused of a sex abuse crime in Florida, then contact an attorney to find out more about how Section 92.565 might impact the admissibility of a confession.

We represent clients throughout the greater Tampa Bay area including at the courthouses in Tampa in Hillsborough County, in Bartow in Polk County, in Brooksville in Hernando County, in New Port Richey and Dade City in Pasco County, and St. Petersburg and Clearwater in Pinellas County, FL.

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Purpose of Florida Statute Section 92.565

Section 92.565 effectively “eliminates corpus delicti as a predicate for the admission of a defendant’s confession when the state is unable to show the existence of each element of the offense” due to the physical or mental health or age of the victim. State v. Dionne, 814 So.2d 1087, 1091 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002).

Under Title VII for evidence related to “Witnesses, Records, and Documents,” Section 92.565 applies to any criminal action in which the defendant is charged with any crime involving sexual abuse of another, or with any attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit any of these crimes including:

Under Florida Statute Section 92.565(1), the term “sexual abuse” means an act of a sexual nature or sexual act that may be prosecuted under any law of this state, including those offenses specifically designated above.

The statute provides that the defendant’s memorialized confession or admission is admissible during trial without the state being required to prove a corpus delicti of the crime if the court finds in a hearing conducted outside the presence of the jury that the state is unable to show the existence of each element of the crime, and having so found, further finds that the defendant’s confession or admission is trustworthy.

Factors Considered for the Admissibility of the Confession

Factors that may be relevant in determining whether the state is unable to show the existence of each element of the crime include, but are not limited to, the fact that, at the time the crime was committed, the victim was:

  • Physically helpless, mentally incapacitated, or mentally defective, as those terms are defined in s. 794.011;
  • Physically incapacitated due to age, infirmity, or any other cause; or
  • Less than 12 years of age.

Burden of Proof to Establish Trustworthiness

Before the court admits the defendant’s confession or admission, the state must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there is sufficient corroborating evidence that tends to establish the trustworthiness of the statement by the defendant.

Hearsay evidence is admissible during the presentation of evidence at the hearing. In making its determination, the court may consider all relevant corroborating evidence, including the defendant’s statements. The court shall make specific findings of fact, on the record, for the basis of its ruling.

Requirements of Section 92.565

Section 92.565 serves the same general purpose as the corpus delicti rule but it contains a different set of safeguards. As explained in Bradley v. State, 918 So.2d 337, 340 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005), a defendant’s confession is admissible in evidence under Section 92.565 only if:

  1. the offense qualifies as a sexual abuse case;
  2. the state is unable as a result of some disability on the part of the victim to prove an element of the crime;
  3. the state has proven that the defendant’s confession is trustworthy; and
  4. the trial court has made specific findings of fact on the issue of trustworthiness.

A defendant’s confession or admission is not admissible under section 92.565 until the State has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that there is sufficient corroborating evidence that tends to establish the trustworthiness of the statement.

The courts in Florida have acknowledged that “a confession cannot corroborate itself.” In other words, the trial court cannot rely “exclusively on the content of [the defendant’s] statements and the circumstances under which they were made to form an opinion about their trustworthiness.”Hernandez v. State, 946 So.2d 1270, 1276 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007).

So even though section 92.565 replaces the corpus delicti rule with the “trustworthiness doctrine” and “does not require independent proof of each element of the crime in order for a confession to be admitted, there must be some evidence that tends to establish the type of harm for which the defendant is being criminally charged.”Geiger v. State, 907 So.2d 668, 675 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005) (emphasis added).

This article was last updated on Friday, March 11, 2022.