Monday, February 14, 2011

Convicted on her statements alone -- How much corroboration is enough?

How much evidence must the prosecution introduce to corroborate a defendant's out of court confession? Not much, according to the Sixth Circuit in US v. Ramirez, a published decision issued today (available here).




The defendant, who worked as the quality assurance manager at a cheese cutting and wrapping company, was convicted on a number of counts for participating in a scheme to hire illegal aliens. During the police investigation, the defendant had made self-incriminating statements as to her involvement. The main issue on appeal was whether the government had introduced enough evidence to corroborate those statements such that the convictions did not run afoul of the rule that a defendant cannot be convicted based solely on her uncorroborated statements or confessions. Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 153-54 (1954).




What is most interesting about this case is not the outcome -- they affirmed the convictions unanimously -- but rather that the Court actually took the time to engage with Smith in a meaningful way. In the lengthy, published opinion, the panel of Martin, McKeague, and Ludington (E.D. Mich.), addressed the total evidence for each count. That fake documents existed, that the defendant admitted in court that she knew some of documents were "poor fakes," and that she lived with one of the hired illegal aliens all provided sufficient corroboration for purposes of appellate review.




While Smith may not have a lot of life left in the Sixth Circuit, the panel's willingness to get its hands dirty demonstrates that Smith is not dead yet.

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