NMCA: Corpus delicti rule satisfied by circumstantial evidence

The Court of Appeals, in State v. Platero, has overturned a trial court order dismissing a vehicular homicide charge before trial because the State did not plan to offer any expert testimony that the rollover car crash at issue killed the victim. No one (except the defendant) witnessed the accident, and the victim was found some distance away from the vehicle. The defendant claimed that he had not been driving the vehicle.

The corpus delicti rule “reflects the simple principle that a crime must be proved to have occurred before anyone can be convicted for having committed it.” Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

Judge Timothy Garcia’s opinion explains that a pretrial motion is not usually a proper method of testing the factual sufficiency of the State’s evidence before trial, and expert testimony is not necessarily required. Here, there was circumstantial evidence that the defendant was driving (his blood was found on the driver’s side of the vehicle) and that the crash killed the victim (she was found with visible signs of trauma a short distance from the vehicle).

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