The corpus delicti rule—prohibiting conviction of a crime based solely on a confession—has been a part of criminal law in the United States for centuries. However, the rule is applied differently by different jurisdictions and is subject to substantial criticism. In the 1950s, the United States Supreme Court replaced the traditional corpus delicti rule with a trustworthiness-and-corroboration requirement. When adopted in 1975, the Federal Rules of Evidence included a trustworthiness-and-corroboration requirement for the admissibility of confessions to a crime under Rule 804(b)(3) but omitted the requirement for confessions admitted under Rule 801(d)(2). What, then, is the current role of the corpus delicti rule in addressing the admissibility of criminal confessions?

This Article addresses the history of the corpus delicti rule in federal and state courts. After highlighting uncertainties and criticisms of the corpus delicti rule, the Article shows that federal courts are applying the trustworthiness-and-corroboration requirement for a criminal defendant’s confession to a crime, even though the requirement is not contained in a key Federal Rule of Evidence. Given this lack of textual clarity, the Article then discusses options to eliminate the uncertainty, ranging from seeking a United States Supreme Court decision to amending the Federal Rules of Evidence. These options would provide litigants, advocates, and courts needed clarity and predictability about what is required to admit evidence of a criminal defendant’s confession.