This article is written by Rida Zaidi, a law student of the Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University. This article deals with false confessions under the Indian Evidence Act,1872 and the way different countries deal with it.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
Admission is one of the most essential fragments of evidentiary value under a criminal proceeding. The entire case depends upon the evidentiary value that is provided before the Court of law. Confession is not defined under the Indian Evidence Act,1872 but an inference for it is given under Section 17 of the Act, this inference applies to both admission and confession. According to it, confession falls under the ambit of admission. Admission, as defined by Section 17, is a statement made orally or in writing or in electronic form which suggests
- a reference as to the fact in issue or relevant fact, and
- where it is made by a person under the circumstances hereinafter mentioned.
Such ‘hereinafter circumstances’ are mentioned under Section 17 to 23 of the Indian Evidence Act. Under English law, the term admission is used under civil cases and the term confession is used under criminal cases. But under the Indian Evidence Act, no such distinction is made between the two. Confession is the admission of guilt by a person stating or suggesting the inference that he is guilty of committing a crime.
In the case of CBI v. V.C.Shukla (1998), the Supreme Court pointed out the difference between confession and admission. Confession is the actual admission of guilt by the person who has committed the crime whereas in the case of admission if the confession falls short of actual admission it can be used as evidence for admission.
Confession is quite an adequate form of evidence as the accused himself admits his guilt which can be a ground of conviction but not the sole ground of conviction. This was due to the reason that in order to be corroborated with other evidence because sometimes the accused may provide the investigating officers with a false confession which will land him/her in jail as the aim of our justice delivery mechanism is that several guilty perpetrators may be set free but one innocent should not be proved guilty.
This article shall deal with false confessions made by the accused, under what circumstances, and the way of different countries in dealing with false confessions according to their respective legal systems.
What is a confession
The term ‘Confession’ is the affirmation of guilt by the accused. It is the acknowledgement or admission of commission of an offence. A confession is made by the person against his favour which would enable the Court to reach its decision and pass the judgement effectively. Confession is nowhere defined in the Indian Evidence Act but Sections 24-30 deal with various provisions regarding the admissibility of confessions. A confession must either admit the entire offence that has been committed or all the facts that have constituted the commission of an offence. Confessions and admissions are constructed on the same proposition that an accused will not lie by giving a statement that goes against his interests. Thus, confessions are a mere category of admissions. The test laid down through which the Court can be satisfied regarding the confessions made are-
- The confession is made voluntarily by the accused or co-accused.
- The confession is based on truth and can be relied on.
If the Court after conducting the first test along with all the other evidence provided before it thinks that it is pleaded, the second test is fulfilled.
In case of Pakala Narayan Swami v. King Emperor (1939) the Privy Council held that the confession made by the accused are partly confession and partly admission. The observations that were made by Lord Atkin were as follows:
- The confession was partly confession and partly an admission.
- The confession ought to accept the terms of the offence or the factors that constituted the offence.
- Even if the confession falls short of an absolute confession but if an inference can be drawn from that statement that he has committed the offence, it shall be considered as a confession.
- Even if the accused makes a severely accusatory statement still it would not amount to a confession.
In the case of Palvinder Kaur v. State of Punjab & Haryana (1952), the Supreme Court held that the Court has to accept in totality the confession as it cannot accept the incriminating portion and reject the defensible portion as the Court is not competent in doing so.
Form of confession
A confession may occur in any form. A confession can be made to the Court, to some other person or while self conversation. In the case of Sahoo v. the State of UP (1966) the Court observed that it is not obligatory that the confession must be made to some other person; it is sufficient and admissible even if the confession is made to oneself.
Types of confessions
Confessions can be categorized under the following heads:
Statements made by an accused in regards to a confession during a criminal proceeding admitting his guilt before a judge or magistrate is known as judicial confession or formal confession. A confession made by an accused before a Judge or Magistrate is admissible under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code. It is known as a plea of guilt and a conviction could be made based on a judicial confession but the condition that needs to be satisfied is that the confession should be voluntary and based on truth. It is the duty of the judicial officer or magistrate to ensure that the accused is not exploited and is protected as per the provisions of Article 20(3). The evidentiary value is dealt with under Section 80 of the Indian Evidence Act that a judicial confession is substantive evidence and though a conviction can be made on the sole ground of it as a rule of caution it should be corroborated with other evidence.
In the case of Bhagwan Singh & Ors v. the State of MP (2003) the Court observed that a confession made involuntarily was inadmissible and unreliable and retracted so it cannot be treated as a corroborative piece of evidence either
Confession made to a person, during self conversation or before anybody including a Judicial Magistrate is known as extra-judicial confession or informal confession. They are made in the absence of a Judge or Judicial Magistrate. It is admissible even if it is overheard by others and that piece of evidence can be proved if the Court is satisfied that it is substantive evidence that goes against the accused but it should be corroborated with some other evidence. Extra-judicial confessions are comparatively weaker than judicial confessions in terms of their evidentiary value. The same principle is applied to informal confession which is applied to judicial confession which is that the accused ought to be protected under Article 20(3) which talks about self-incrimination that a person cannot be compelled to give confession against himself. It should not be involuntary and should be reliable.
In the case of the State of Rajasthan v. Raja Ram (2003) the Court held that the extra-judicial confession, if made voluntarily and with a sound mind, is not merely weak evidence owing to the presumption that extra-judicial confession is a weaker kind of evidence. Its reliability depends upon the facts and circumstances of the case and the credibility of the witnesses.
Retracted confession is a confession that is withdrawn or revoked after it is made owing to any reason whatsoever, may it be fear of somebody or fear of getting defamed in society etc., but it should have been made voluntarily and not out of threat, inducement or any promise. Retracted confession is weak evidence as it is retracted but it could be used against the accused if it could be proved before the Court and if the Court is satisfied that the particular retracted confession could be relied upon as a basis for conviction, it is admissible.
In the case of Bharat v. State of UP (1969), the Court held that a confession is examined on the grounds of its voluntary nature and its truthfulness and a retracted confession too can be taken into account by the Court. The Court must weigh both the confession and retracted confession together and then decide whether the retraction has affected the confession that is made voluntarily.
In the case of the State of Maharashtra v. Bharat Chaganlal Raghani & Ors (2001) the Court held that even for the admissibility of retracted confession some corroboration is required and a mere confessional statement is sufficient for pleading conviction not on the grounds of rule of law but out of relevancy.
Confession by co-accused
When one or more than one person is being tried for the same offence then confession by one of the accused shall be admissible against all the other co-accused. Confession by a co-accused is a weak sort of evidence.
In the case of State NCT of Delhi v Navjot Sandhu (2005), the Court held that a confession made by an accused requires corroboration but if the court is satisfied with the relevancy of the confession then a conviction can be pleaded on the sole ground of the confession.
What is a false confession
A false confession is the admission of guilt by the accused of a crime which in reality, he has not committed. People confess false confessions under threat, coercion, or mental disabilities where they are not able to understand the questions which are asked to them during interrogation or are not under a frame of mind to answer such questions. The most vulnerable group of society who profess false confession are children as they might under fear admit something which they have not done. False confessions are inadmissible and the police should interrogate thoroughly to examine the accused and to disclose the truth. False confessions have existed for ages and have acted as a hindrance to the justice delivery mechanism of our country. It delays the process of trial of a case and might end up putting an innocent person behind the bars. Furthermore, the real culprits escape and the purpose of justice remains unachieved.
In the case of Ahem Raja Khima v. the State of Maharashtra (1955), the appellant stated that as soon as he was put in jail, he was compelled to give a false confession by the police and out of fear he gave false confession as per directed by the police which he later repudiated.
Kinds of false confessions
False confessions can be divided into several categories on the grounds of facts and circumstances of a case and the gravity of the confession made.
Voluntary false confessions
These confessions result from an underlying mental disability or psychotic disorder. It is usually made in the absence of police officers. It happens in cases where the mentally disturbed person is seeking self-punishment for quashing his guilt or where he is not able to understand the difference between his imagination and reality or where he wants to protect the real culprit which might be his family member, relative or just an accomplice, furthermore to take revenge from someone. The police find voluntary false confessions unreliable and untrustworthy.
In the famous Lindberg kidnapping case (1932) where two babies were kidnapped and were found dead less than 5 miles from their home. It was found that the culprit was made to write similar notes like the ransom notes by the police. Later he was hanged to death.
Complaint false confession
The environment where the accused is interrogated in police custody is scary, unfamiliar, stressful and may cause the accused to get nervous. One of the most common practices of the police during questioning is to make the accused frightful, making him believe that if he confesses now he shall be availed during the trial and the judge would be lenient which is something that does not happen in most cases. The accused trusts the officers and thinks that if he confesses the whole scenario of interrogations will come to an end and thus gives the confession. The accused already being behind the bar finds his self-esteem is too low, and sometimes his answering does not satisfy the officers which may result in using physical torture and mental pressure which ultimately results in the conveying of false confession.
In the famous case of the New York Central Park Jogger (1989), four teenagers who were were presumed to have committed the heinous offence of rape were arrested. It was later found out that they were innocent owing to their statements and the DNA reports did not match with the DNA of the woman.
Persuasive false confession
It is the confession made by the accused where the police officers use such tricks and tactics where the accused doubts his memory and gets into self-doubt that he might have committed the offence. The scenario which is created during the time of enquiring the accused is such that it causes anxiety and fear to the accused. Furthermore, the police officials while questioning him, fabricates the crime scenes in such a way before the accused that he starts to ponder about his actions and begins to believe it. It is a kind of psychological hypnotisation where the mental faculty of the accused is molded according to the officers examining him.
Causes of a false confession
According to expert Richard Leo on false confessions, there are majorly three reasons for making a false statement. These reasons can be,
Misclassification of error
The first error that the police officials make is suspecting and creating suspicion regarding innocent people which ultimately leads to false confessions in many cases. When a presumption is created about a suspect it is almost considered that he has committed the crime in the eyes of the police officers and the interrogation is conducted keeping in mind that the suspect is the possible culprit. The behavioral analysis in regards to the suspects creates more confirmation for the police as to his body posture, how he speaks, how he affirms and denies and whether he is confident or nervous while answering. Though these tests are a total sham as every suspect is different to the facts and circumstances of each case.
It is the error where the police use such tactics as putting across the accused that he will be advanced to harsher punishment if he does not confess or that the accused has to admit his guilt as it is a part of the questioning, under some circumstances the accused is offered money or ransom in exchange of conveying a confession. The police officers in some cases take the aid of causing physical and mental torture to the accused by depriving him of necessities like food, water, washroom facilities etc. The accused undergoes discomfort and displeasure and feels trapped and helpless and might believe to surrender to whatever is being told to him.
Interrogators are experts in creating, molding and making the accused acknowledge his guilt for an offence which he has not committed. These are the repercussions of doing the same job for years and for now they know how to create such a story that portrays a real one and is credible for the Court and the judge. The accused is manipulated in accepting the guilt as he is confined in unfamiliar and unpleasant surroundings with an officer whose only motive is to make the confessor confess his guilt regarding the commission of a crime.
Admissibility of a false confession
The Indian Evidence Act,1872 embodies within itself the provisions relating to confessions from Section 24 to Section 30 under which confessions are admissible because they are made voluntarily and are based on truthfulness. However, false confessions are entirely inadmissible under the Indian Evidence Act. Every country has a different way of dealing with cases of false confessions and some of them are discussed below.
Under the Indian Legal System, if it comes to the notice of the Court that a false confession is made the Judge has full authority to condemn it and nullify it completely. There are certain rules known as the Confession rules. The Indian legal system deals with false confession in the following ways:
- The Judge can charge Contempt of court, 1971 if it obstructs the working of the Court or leads to a lack of cooperation from the opposite party.
- Perjury, i.e., lying to the Court is a serious offence under the Indian Penal Code and is dealt with under Section 193. Its punishment is dealt with under Section 196, that is, imprisonment for 7 years.
- Lying to the police officer is dealt with under Section 182 of the Indian Penal Code, where a person intends to give false information with an intent to cause the public servant to use the power of law to cause injury to another person by doing something which he should not do or would not have done it if he knew the facts, such persons shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for six months or beyond or with fine or with both.
Britain has embraced the technique of investigative interviews where the investigation is recorded so that the accused cannot be exploited and his interests are protected. Britain has always aimed to collect information rather than abuse the accused. The quality of evidence has always been up to the mark without compromising the accused’s mental and physical well being.
Canada uses a technique known as the lead technique. It involves three stages that is- facts analysis, interviews and interrogation. The suspect is questioned in a way that he goes into self-doubt regarding his actions and he starts to think that he might have committed the crime, he is wrongfully told that his DNA is matched or that some other evidence is found which will prove that he is guilty. There are a lot of unjust and unfair practices that exist under the Canadian legal system. There are many recommendations made to improve its shortcomings.
United States of America
The United States of America has one of the most expert investigators in the world. They have resorted to keeping into consideration the psychology of the accused. The Supreme Court has declared several guidelines to keep in mind while interrogating in cases of false confession. They are as follows-
- DNA testing and exoneration
DNA completely adjudicates the matters as to whether the suspect is the real culprit or not. It ensures that no innocent is wrongfully detained for a crime that has not been committed.
- The USA has completely abolished practicing harsh and inhumane treatment done to the accused. It does not aim to achieve information at the cost of the lives of the suspects.
- The accused are made aware of their rights and are provided with a lawyer to aid them regarding the legal advice.
Brazil embraces the practice of torturing its suspects. The accused were left with no other option than to convey false confession. The officials targeted the poor and the violent suspects of society. The country is condemned for following this practice.
China has had a long history of wrongfully detaining the people, immigrants and the vulnerable. The Chinese legal system has embodied the system of video interviews which will enable the officials to practice fair dealings with the suspects.
One of the aspects of confessions is false confession where a suspect admits his guilt for the commission of an offence which he has not committed and he is aware of the fact that he is innocent but maybe due to social pressure, the psychological tactics used by the police while interrogating, the accused sometimes tries to protect his family member, relative or acquaintance who has committed the crime or where he is mentally unfit to understand the questioning put before him by the police officials etc. A false confession is not admissible under the Indian legal system as it is untrustworthy and based on lies. If false confessions delay the proceedings of the Court or makes the opposing party lack cooperation, a person could be charged with contempt of Court or perjury where he lies before the Court under the Indian Penal Code. Different Countries have different ways of dealing with false confessions under their respective legal systems. For example, the USA uses the technique of DNA testing and preventing harsh measures while interrogating, whereas Brazil practices inhuman ways of dealing with confessions of its suspects. There have been a lot of changes being made in every country’s legal system in regards to their ways of dealing. But one cannot deny the fact that false confessions have always existed and their rate has somewhat increased during recent times. Lastly, after analyzing the whole scenario of false confessions prevalent in different countries and the different techniques which are employed in dealing with the accused, the author is of the view that the laws regarding false confessions should be stricter and such accused should be punished for misleading the courts.
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