Extrajudicial Confession Alone is Not Enough to Convict

The Virginia Supreme Court summarized the law in this area in Watson v. Commonwealth:

It is true that, as a general principle of law, an accused cannot be convicted solely on his uncorroborated extrajudicial admission or confession. The corpus delicti must be corroborated. Cleek v. Commonwealth, 165 Va. 697, 698, 181 S.E. 359, 360 (1935). It is not necessary, however, that there be independent corroboration of all the contents of the confession, or even of all the elements of the crime. The requirement of corroboration is limited to the facts constituting the corpus delicti. See Campbell v. Commonwealth, 194 Va. 825, 833-34, 75 S.E.2d 468, 473-74 (1953). Further, where, as here, the accused has fully confessed the crime, only slight corroborative evidence is necessary to establish  [*349]  the corpus delicti. Clozza v. Commonwealth, 228 Va. 124, 133, 321 S.E.2d 273, 279 (1984), cert.  denied, 469 U.S. 1230 (1985).

The confession is itself competent evidence tending to prove the corpus delicti, and all that is required of the Commonwealth in such a case is to present evidence of such circumstances as  will, when taken in connection with the confession, establish the corpus delicti beyond a reasonable doubt. Cleek, 165 Va. at 699, 181 S.E. at 360. Further, corroborative facts supporting the corpus delicti may be furnished by circumstantial evidence as readily as by direct evidence. Epperly v. Commonwealth, 224 Va. 214, 229, 294 S.E.2d 882, 891 (1982). Indeed, we commented in Epperly that because circumstantial evidence is not subject to the human frailties of perception, memory, and truthful recital, it is often more reliable than the accounts of eyewitnesses. Id. at 228, 294 S.E.2d at 890.

Watkins v. Commonwealth, 238 Va. 341, 348-349 (Va. 1989).



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