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[W] State of Idaho v. Todd James Suriner

November 15, 2012; withdrawn and opinion filed January 23, 2013


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Ada County. The Hon. Deborah A. Bail, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eismann, Justice.

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

2012 Opinion No. 134

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

This is an appeal out of Ada County contending that there was not sufficient evidence corroborating the defendant's confession to support his conviction for sexually abusing his two young daughters. We hold that the corroboration was sufficient and affirm the judgment of conviction. We also overrule our prior decisions adopting the corpus delicti rule.

I. Factual Background.

Todd Suriner (Defendant) is the father of twin girls who, in December 2008, were about three and one-half years of age. One of the daughters mentioned to her aunt that the Defendant had hurt her "business," which is the word she had been taught to use when referring to her vagina. Law enforcement was contacted, and on December 18, 2008, a detective telephoned the Defendant and asked to meet with him. He went to the detective's office, denied any wrongdoing, and agreed to submit to a polygraph.

After arriving at the sheriff's office for the polygraph, but before it was administered, the Defendant admitted that for the past year he had been sexually abusing his daughters by inserting his finger into their vaginas and then masturbating. He stated that he abused them on Sundays while his wife was at work. The Defendant confessed to sexually abusing them during two separate interviews with detectives that were held five days apart.

On December 30, 2008, the Defendant was charged with two counts of lewd conduct in violation of Idaho Code section 18-1508 (one count for each daughter). He pled not guilty and was tried before a jury. During the trial, the State offered into evidence the Defendant's videotaped confessions and audiotapes of remorseful telephone calls he had made from jail. The State also presented the testimony of a pediatrician who had conducted a physical examination of the girls. His examination did not reveal any trauma or injury that is associated with sexual abuse, but he testified that the lack of such physical evidence is not unusual and that from 66% to 95% of children who are seen for allegations of sexual abuse and penetration will have a normal exam. The State also called the Defendant's wife as a witness, and she testified that he was alone with the girls on Sundays while she was at work.

After the State rested, the Defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal based upon the corpus delicti rule on the ground that the State had not produced evidence that a crime had occurred independently from the Defendant's confession. The district court denied the motion, and the Defendant declined to testify or offer any evidence. The jury returned a verdict finding the Defendant guilty of both counts of lewd conduct. The court later sentenced the Defendant on both counts to twenty-five years in the custody of the Idaho Board of Correction, with five years determinate and the remaining twenty years indeterminate, with the sentences to be concurrent. The court retained jurisdiction for 180 days, but later declined to place the Defendant on probation and remanded him into the custody of the Board of Correction to serve his sentence. The Defendant timely appealed.

The appeal was initially heard by the Idaho Court of Appeals, which reversed the conviction on the ground that there was no evidence corroborating the Defendant's confessions as required by the corpus delicti rule. The State filed a petition for review, which we granted. In cases that come before this Court on a petition for review of a Court of Appeals decision, we directly review the decision of the lower court as if the appeal came directly to this Court. Head v. State, 137 Idaho 1, 2, 43 P.3d 760, 761 (2002).


Did the District Court Err in Holding that There Was Sufficient Corroboration Under the Corpus Delicti Rule?

The corpus delicti rule is "the fact that a crime has been committed cannot be proved by the extra-judicial confessions or statements of the prisoner, and that there must be some evidence or corroborating circumstances tending to show that a crime has been committed, aside from such confessions or statements." State v. Keller, 8 Idaho 699, 704, 70 P. 1051, 1052 (1902). There was no common-law corpus delicti rule in England. "There the courts have been hesitant to lay down a rule that an uncorroborated extra-judicial confession may not send an accused to prison or to death," Opper v. U.S., 348 U.S. 84, 89 (1954), although there were statutes that ...

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