DENVER (AP) – The Colorado Supreme Court said Monday that prosecutors no longer need to prove a crime occurred if they can show a confession is trustworthy.
The rule requiring proof of a crime using evidence other than a confession had been in effect for more than a century. The justices said the new rule will apply to future cases.
In its ruling, the court also upheld the overturning of a sex assault conviction.
Prosecutors said Jason LaRosa confessed to his wife, his mother, his pastor and police that he sexually assaulted a child, and he was convicted by a jury.
The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, saying prosecutors failed to prove that a crime had occurred by presenting evidence other than the confession.
The state Supreme Court said LaRosa’s confessions under the new rules “would invariably support a conclusion by a reasonable person of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Still, the court cited the old rule in refusing to reinstate his conviction, saying it would not be fair to apply the new rules about confessions without a warning.
The Colorado attorney general’s office said it was pleased the court recognized the old rule was out of date but disappointed that the court’s ruling wouldn’t apply to LaRosa.
Karen Steinhauser, a Denver law professor and former prosecutor, said the new rule does not release prosecutors from having to prove their case when they have a confession.
Under the new standard, prosecutors don’t have to prove that a crime occurred, but they do have to prove the facts given by a defendant during a confession.
Many people accused of crimes they did not commit confess because they believe they will get a lighter sentence than they would after a conviction at trial, said Dan Recht, a Denver defense attorney.
“The fact is, false confessions are real and do occur,” he said.
Federal courts and a growing number of states now use the trustworthiness standard.
In their ruling, the Colorado judges said the old rule did “nothing to protect a person who confesses to a crime committed by someone else. ”
The justices also noted the old rule had been criticized for its potential to obstruct justice in cases where the victim is too young to testify and there is no evidence. The court said the rule could reward defendants who leave no evidence while targeting young or mentally ill victims who cannot testify.
The court said new laws are in place to protect defendants from abusive police tactics involving confessions. They also said courts have safeguards to restrict the power of a jury to convict on the basis of a confession alone.
The dissent written by Justice Nathan Coats said there was enough evidence in the sexual assault case to find LaRosa guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and reinstate the conviction.
LINK: Supreme Court Ruling
– By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer
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