SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that a confession to a crime may stand on its merits without prosecutors having to prove through other evidence that a crime has been committed.
Assistant Attorney General Christopher Ballard, who represented the state before the high court, said the change puts Utah state on a par with the federal court system.
The ruling Tuesday established a "trustworthiness standard" for a judge to use in deciding whether a confession is sufficiently reliable to be admitted into evidence.
The ruling, written by Associate Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant, said judge should take into consideration such things as the spontaneity of the statement, the absence of deception, trick, threats or promises to obtain the confession, and the defendant's physical and mental condition.
The court said the new standard could not be applied to the case that was in question.
The case was that of Brent Mauchley, who allegedly confessed to having falsely said in an insurance claim against Salt Lake City that he was injured when he fell into an uncovered manhole on Jan. 5, 1995.
He was charged with insurance fraud and theft by deception, but sought to dismiss the charges, arguing the state could not use his confession alone to prove his guilt in the absence of any independent evidence that the crime had occurred.
A district judge denied the request, but the Utah Court of Appeals reversed the ruling. The high court affirmed the Court of Appeals, saying that the new trustworthiness standard could not be applied retroactively to Mauchley's case.
Some attorneys are concerned that the new standard will result in more convictions made on the basis of false confessions.
Attorney Kent Hart said innocent people can confess to crimes for a variety of reasons, especially in situations where they think police have solid evidence against them and it may be the only way to better their position.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)