Fifteen-year-old J.F.K. confessed to having sex twice with his 17-year-old ex-girlfriend. At the delinquency hearing, the State (1) played his video confession, (2) offered the testimony of a detective who said that police had referred the girlfriend to be charged for having sex with J.F.K., and (3) a JOC showing that the ex-girlfriend had pled guilty to 4th degree sexual assault but, of course, did not name the victim.
A criminal conviction cannot stand on the basis of the defendant’s confession alone. The State must present evidence corroborating any significant fact in the confession. State v. Bannister, 2007 WI 86, ¶23, 302 Wis. 2d 158, 734 N.W.2d 892. This bar, said the court of appeals, is low and was satisfied here:
¶9 “A significant fact has been corroborated when there is confidence in … the fact that the crime the defendant has confessed to indeed occurred.” Bannister. A significant fact need not independently establish a specific element of the crime. Id., ¶27. In addition, a significant fact need not be “particular enough to independently link the defendant to the crime.” Id., ¶30. Rather, a significant fact is “one that gives confidence that the crime the defendant confessed to actually occur[red].” Id., ¶31.
¶11 [T]he State introduced a certified copy of a judgment of conviction, indicating that seventeen-year-old Emily pled no contest to fourth-degree sexual assault on July 17, 2015. The State also introduced detective Hoffman’s testimony that Emily was referred to the district attorney’s office “for charges for having sex with [J.F.K.],” and, based on Hoffman’s review of CCAP records, he believed she pled no contest in July 2015. Taken together, and viewed in the light most favorable to the fact-finder’s determination, see Bannister, 302 Wis. 2d 158, ¶32, the judgment of conviction and Hoffman’s testimony support a reasonable inference that Emily and J.F.K. had a sexual relationship. This is a significant fact that corroborates J.F.K.’s confession, because it gives confidence that the crime J.F.K. confessed to—having sexual intercourse with Emily while she was under eighteen and not his spouse—actually occurred. See Bannister, ¶31.
If you are working on this issue, take a look at our post on Bannister. There appears to be a split of authority over the type of evidence needed to corroborate a confession.