This article is written by Tanisha Gautam, pursuing a Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy from LawSikho.com.
Justice leaves the high road when it is not dealt with according to the ‘due procedure established by Law.’ It is atrocious to observe that the ones safeguarding the rights and ensuring safety to the citizens can lead to their life’s end in the most obnoxiously condescending manner. In this article, the author has introduced a brief note on confessions and false confessions, reasons why innocents fall into the trap of giving false confessions, the types of false confessions that are given by innocent suspects, how false confessions are dealt with in India, and different countries.
What is a confession?
A confession, under “Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872” refers to the admission of any fact by the defendant in a manner that the same can be used against him in trial proceedings, initiated against him. Confessions are included in the part of admission since they are defined in the commission category. “Section 24 to 30 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 deals with a confession.” According to the criminal law in India, a confession is a statement given by an individual towards the acknowledgment and acceptance of his guilt of committing a crime. A confession is a declaration made by a convicted person that is used to determine the commission of an offence by him in a criminal case. A confession if produced knowingly and willingly can be recognised as definitive of the matters. A confession has a rule of going against the person who makes it. A confession can be either in oral or written form. “According to Section 30, Indian Evidence Act, Confessions made by one or two or more accused jointly tried for the same offence can be taken into consideration against the co-accused (Section 30).”
The Supreme Court upheld the Privy Council’s decision in the Pakala Narayan Swami case by a two-to-one margin in Palvinder Kaur vs. State of Punjab. To begin with, confession is described as either admitting guilt in terms or admitting substantially all of the facts that constitute the offence. Second, a cluttered statement, even though it includes some confessional statements, if results in acquittal, is not a confession. As a result, a statement containing self-exculpatory information that, if valid, would contradict the matter or offence, cannot be considered a confession.
However, in Nishi Kant Jha v State of Bihar, the Supreme Court stated there is nothing wrong in relying on part of a confessional statement while denying the rest, and the court drew guidance from English authorities for this reason. The courts could depend on the inculpatory part of the accused person’s statements if there is enough evidence to reject the exculpatory part.
What is a false confession?
A false confession occurs when a person acknowledges guilt when they are not the perpetrator of the wrongdoing. The use of intimidation or force to obtain the statement may result in false confessions. They may also be the product of the accused’s mental incapacity. False admissions may sound impossible, but they happen all the time and can cause a lot of problems during a criminal trial.
A false confession can occur when someone admits to a crime in order to draw away the court’s attention from the person who actually committed the crime. For instance, a person can confess to a crime in order to save a friend, family member, or a relative who is under investigation. False admissions may be used to escape harsh penalties, such as when someone pleads guilty to a lesser crime that they did not commit.
If a confession is revealed to be false, the judge will undoubtedly remove the assertion of the same from the documents, and it will no longer be admissible in court. In addition, the person who made the false confession may face additional penalties for lying in court. This is known as perjury.
Confession made by the accused : the most important procedure
The admission would not be admissible in court if the false confession was made under the influence of coercion or abuse. Involuntary confessions, whether true or false, are not admissible. Thus, it is essential to understand that the confession made by the accused is one of the most important procedures of a trial. It is critical to make sure that such confession is free of any fallibilities, otherwise, it may lead to unfair, unjust, and uneven trial proceedings.
Lord Atkin stated in Pakala Narayan Swami vs. Emperor, a confession must either be accepted in relation to any offence or to any substantive facts which inaugurate the offence with criminal proceedings. Admission of any criminal wrongdoing on the basis of coercion or force is not a legit confession. Admission of serious wrongdoing, even conclusively incriminating fact, is not itself a confession.”
In Baburao Bajirao Patil v. State of Maharashtra, the court explained that, before ascertaining the facts for the purpose of deciding the facts in issues of the case, the court should begin ascertaining the case facts with all other possible pieces of evidence related to the case, and then only it shall turn to the approach of confession by the accused in order to administer justice.”
Reasons for giving 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,
These reasons are discussed in-depth below:
(i) Misclassification error
A gruesome mistake occurs when the police officers or detectives inaccurately come to a conclusion that an innocent person is guilty. It is hypocritical on their part as the Law itself states, “innocent until proven guilty.” A particular person is targeted and the police on the basis of erroneous interrogations presume that the person is guilty. Misclassifying innocents is a very vital component of false confessions and wrongful convictions. The reasoning behind these erroneous decisions lies in the cognitive ability and lack of adequate training of these police officers and detectives. Detectives are instructed that if a target averts his eyes, slouches, appears lost clueless, changes his posture, brushes his nose, adjusts his glasses, bites his fingernails, or scratches the back of his head, he is likely lying and thus guilty. The subject who is wary, uncooperative, unresponsive, and gives broad condemnations and eligible responses are as well thought to be misleading and hence guilty. A person can be assumed guilty based on common crime-related hypotheses, such as the possible reasons and motives behind the crime and the suspects most likely to have such motives. Family members have been induced to falsely confess to murdering husbands, children, or parents, mainly because police assume that most such murders are committed by family members before searching for other suspects.
(ii) Coercion error
When police officers or detectives mistake an innocent person for a criminal suspect, they often interrogate him. “Police use of interrogation techniques that are regarded as inherently coercive in psychology and law, or police use of interrogation techniques that cause a suspect to perceive that he has no choice but to comply with the interrogators’ demands.” The first type of coercive investigation/interrogation includes methods like deprivations of food, sleep, water, and access to bathroom facilities, incommunicado interrogation, and induction of extreme exhaustion and fatigue.
Today’s police interrogators use psychological coercion tactics, which typically include (implicit or explicit) assurances of leniency and warnings of harsher punishment. The second type of psychological manipulation involves convincing a prisoner that he has little choice but to comply with the interrogator’s demands, which is the culmination of all interrogation techniques combined. The aim of the detention centre and physical isolation is to separate and disempower the defendant. Interrogation is intended to be traumatic and uncomfortable and lasts unpleasantly for longer hours. Since, the suspect is tired, beaten down, or finds no other way to escape such an intolerably stressful environment, the suspect may comply with the officers’ wishes. Others obey as they are persuaded that it is the only way to escape a dreadful result, such as homosexual rape or extreme brutality violence. When a suspect misbelieves that he is left with no choice but to comply, his subsequent compliance and confession are the result of coercion.
(iii) Contamination error
Psychologically manipulative policing procedures are the reasons behind how, why, and when a perpetrator is pushed from denial to acknowledgment of a crime. The officer’s/detective’s purpose is to produce a credible story leading to the suspect’s arrest. Interrogators have now become experts at inventing, implying, or eliciting an interpretation of the suspect’s motives in false-confession cases. Interrogators prompt the suspect to equate his decision to confess to a moral decision and to express regret for the crime he committed. They provide vivid scene descriptions that seem to support the suspect’s guilt by confirming his knowledge of the crime. Interrogators can also attempt to interpret the confession as voluntary by presenting the perpetrator as the author of his own confession and themselves as merely the passive recipients. Interrogators force in the fabrication of a false statement by pushing the victim to acknowledge a specific scenario and crime evidence. If the entire interrogation is documented on audio or video, it may well be easy to track how and when the interrogator suggested or indicated the required responses for the suspect to include in his post-admission narrative. If the entire interrogation isn’t documented, there must be no conclusive evidence to establish that the interrogator tainted the suspect’s post-admission statement.
Types of false confessions
A false confession can be fabricated in different manners, depending on nature, circumstances, and gravity. These types are:
(i)Voluntary false confession
(ii)Complaint false confession
(iii)Persuaded false confession.
These are discussed in-depth below:
(i) Voluntary false confession
These confessions are made either on the basis of the confessor’s internal psychological thought process and conscience, or on the basis of some external pressure or coercion brought upon the confessor, but not by any officer/investigator in authority. Sometimes voluntary false confessions are motivated by psychological issues, for instance, a person might make a statement because of a desperate need for self-punishment or have the inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. An individual might make a voluntary false confession to protect and defend the real suspect, to provide an accomplice for a different crime or, to take an act of revenge on someone else. The judges and the attorneys are usually not very trustful of these kinds of confessions.
In one of the United States cases, “John Mark Karr confessed to the murder of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey. Karr had been obsessed with every aspect of her murder, and he was extradited from Thailand based on his confession ten years after her death. However, his account contradicted case specifics, and his DNA did not match that found at the crime scene. His wife and brother said that he was at home in another state at the time of the murder and had never visited Colorado. Prosecutors never charged him with the crime because his confession was so blatantly untrue.”
(ii) Complaint false confession
If officers use stress, intimidation, or coercion, and suspects are struggling to get away from a painful interrogation, they can confess whether or not they are guilty. The subjects may assume that if they confess to the crime, they will be released or will escape a tougher sentence. This is related to the coercion error discussed above. Confessions are normally easily recanted by confessors after the questioning is completed. Interrogation in a prison facility is extremely intense, anxiety-inducing, unpleasant, and disturbing. The interrogator’s behavioural style can be a source of distress. His accusatory tactics are often intended to cause anxiety by undermining the suspect’s self-esteem, preventing him from claiming his innocence, and making him feel helpless and trapped. The questioning can last several hours, as with compliant false confessions, weakening the suspect’s resistance, causing exhaustion, and increasing suggestibility.
“The New York Central Park Jogger case is one of the most well-known false confession cases. A female jogger was brutally assaulted and raped in Central Park in 1989. The crime sparked outrage in New York City, and police were pressed to identify the perpetrators. That night, five black youths were seen in the park, arrested, and questioned for the crime. Four of the boys confessed to their involvement in the crime after extensive police interrogation. The teenagers’ accounts of the crime were also contradictory, and none of the DNA evidence matched either of them. They all later said they were forced to make false claims. When a serial rapist confessed to the crime, all five youths were exonerated.”
(iii) Persuaded false confession
Interrogation techniques may cause a person to doubt his or her own memory, leading him or her to believe that he or she committed the crime when he or she did not. This is usually accomplished in three stages:
- The interrogator uses prolonged, intense, and accusatorial questioning to make the defendant doubt his or her own innocence.
- Interrogators provide the accused with a justification for the crime and how it may have been committed without him or her remembering it. Multiple personalities, a blackout, post-traumatic stress disorder, or a repressed memory may all be suggested as reasons for the person’s behaviour.
- After pleading guilty to the crime since there is no other plausible reason, the offender may make up fake evidence to justify the crime because he sincerely believes he has committed it.
Strategies to prevent false confessions
Innocents who fall prey and confess are treated in the worst of cruel ways.
- Interrogation should be done only of those suspects who have a reasonable cause and intent to commit malpractices.
- Differentiating false confessions. Investigators should have the required evidence to differentiate unreliable and false confessions from the true and reliable ones. A fair and decent analysis of police interrogations of the suspect, incriminated and false statements, other vital facts and evidence of the case is a must. Since human-like detection techniques aren’t uptight, it is imperative to rely on a systematic analysis of evidence.
- Proper and complete analysis of the interrogations. There are two essential factors to this:
(i)whether the interrogation process involved any coercive/forceful methods, leading the suspect to give a false confession;
(ii)where the suspect could have acknowledged the details of the statements he made;
(iii)each minute of the confession should be recorded properly.
- Interrogation time should be reduced, as it increases the chances for the suspects to give false statements. Most false confessions are given a minimum of six hours after the continuous process of interrogation.
- There is a requirement for expert witnesses in the fields of psychology, criminology, or sociology. They must be called at the interrogation to review the entire process and then should be present at the hearing as a witness.
- Requirement of corroborating evidence to the confession. Corroborating evidence is the evidence that tends to support some initial evidence.
Dealing of false confessions in different countries
Each country differs on the account of dealing with false confessions according to the laws and statutes applicable. If an individual is caught making a false confession in a court of law, he may face criminal or civil charges.
The court employs a number of techniques to deal with and detect false confessions. The term “confession rules” refers to a collection of rules that are commonly used for this purpose. If a person is caught making a false confession, the following steps against him can be taken:
- “Contempt of Court Act, 1971” occurs when a suspect’s false confession disrupts or threatens to obstruct court proceedings and leads to a lack of cooperation from the opposing party. The confessor may be held in contempt by the Judge at any time.
- Criminal charges may be filed. Any person who makes a false confession may be charged with additional offences, depending on when and where the confession was made, as well as to whom it was made. An individual faces the following charges:
A. Perjury (lying to the court)
“Perjury is defined as an offence of lying under an oath. Perjury means to lie in a court of law. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines ‘Perjury’ in Chapter IX “of false evidence and offences against public justice” under Section 191. The punishment for the offence of perjury is defined under Section 193 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 as seven years of imprisonment.”
B. Lying to a police officer
“Section 182 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860” – “False information, with intent to cause public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person. Whoever gives to any public servant any information which he knows or believes to be false, intending thereby to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, such public servant—
- To do or omit anything which such public servant ought not to do or omit if the true state of facts respecting which such information is given were known by him, or
- To use the lawful power of such a public servant to the injury or annoyance of any person shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”
2. United Kingdom
In the early 1990s, a methodology known as the “investigative interview” was implemented in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is regarded as a world pioneer in ethical interviewing. In the United Kingdom, testimony is of high quality, and criminals are treated fairly rather than harshly. Threats or force, collectively known as coercion, are specifically prohibited in the United Kingdom. Over time, the UK has greatly strengthened its interviewing techniques, placing a greater emphasis on gathering facts rather than obtaining a confession. Furthermore, recording the interview has been made obligatory in order to protect the suspect’s interests.
In the case of, Regina vs. Mcilkenny & Ors., also known as the BIRMINGHAM SIX, it was concluded that people respond differently to confessions made under pressure and force. The case is associated with the bombings that occurred in two Birmingham pubs, resulting in the deaths of nearly 200 people and the serious injuries of at least 21 others. This led to the interrogation of six suspects, all of whom were Irish Catholic immigrants, but the attack was blamed on the Provisional IRA. After 16 years in prison, these suspects who were granted life sentences were released as it was found that they had been wrongfully convicted. It was reported that they were seriously abused and interrogated unfairly during their investigation time.
3. United States
The Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly renounced and developed principles regarding the fact, that confessions obtained through coercion, violence, force, and intimidation cannot be used as evidence for the accused’s prosecution. The United States Supreme Court has laid out various rules for the same, such as:
- DNA testing and exoneration – It ensures that no one is wrongfully accused and punished on the basis of a false confession obtained under duress. DNA tests will help decide whether or not an individual was involved in a specific crime (specifically the offences involving physical contact such as rape).
- Diminishing third-degree treatment – In the past, harsh and inhumane methods of interrogation were common in the United States, but by the end of the nineteenth century, they had been greatly reduced and minimised.
- Accused persons’ rights – People are now made aware of their rights, which include being informed of the allegations leveled against them and being provided with a lawyer to defend their case.
Torture by police officers on victims who are either poor or violent suspects is a common practice in Brazil. There is a lot of police brutality present. Suspects are subjected to such harsh and insane treatment that they have no choice but to make false confessions in order to defend themselves. In the Tarina Rape Case, four suspects were arrested for brutally raping and murdering a girl in front of a theme park, and they later admitted to the crime. However, after a thorough investigation, investigators discovered that the girl had not been raped and that the boys’ confessions were the result of torture. Later, 13 police officers were detained, while the police chief escaped.
The ‘Reid Method,’ named after John Reid, a former Chicago police officer, is a type of interrogation technique used in Canada. There are three phases to this technique: factual examination, interviewing, and interrogation. Initially, criminals are simply observed to determine if they are lying or telling the truth. If the interviewer assumes the offender is lying, the interrogation is conducted in such a way that the suspect is presumed guilty; this could include interrupting any denials made by the suspect and refusing to believe their narrative. An interrogator may make false claims or even fabricate evidence. In the 2011 Report’s recommendations, investigation guidelines for questioning suspects and witnesses were renewed. The following three points were the subject of this report:
- Interviews performed in police custody should be heavily videotaped, particularly when suspects are involved in serious crimes of personal and violent nature, and not just the final statement, but the entire interview should be captured.
- The investigation criteria should be set in such a way that the outcome of the investigation process is more reliable.
- The interview process should be conducted using proper procedures, and an inquiry into why certain people admit to crimes they did not commit should be conducted.
Punishment should not exist for revenge, but to lessen the crime rate and reform criminals. The most heinous crime one can commit is to frame an innocent individual for something that will make him pay a cost for which he is not even liable. The interrogators, officers, detectives in the process of targeting and framing an innocent are themselves falling inside the pit of filth and squalor. It is horribly bewildering to witness that the ones who should be protecting are setting the traps for their convenience and pleasure. The real criminal is still on the loose, discharging his crimes, while a weak, moral, and righteous individual is dying behind the bars, both literally and metaphorically. In the global context, it appears that developed countries have a well-established legal structure and guidelines to prevent false confessions, but there is much room for improvement when it comes to developing or underdeveloped countries, especially those in the African and South-Asian subcontinents. Limiting the number of days in detention and requiring the accused to undergo medical examination minimises the likelihood of false confessions, and such approaches have proven to be effective in the Indian context.
- Gross S: The risks of death: why erroneous convictions are common in capital cases. Buff L Rev 44:469–500, 1996
- Ofshe R, Leo R: The social psychology of police interrogation: the theory and classification of true and false confessions. Stud Law Politics Soc 16:189–251, 1997
- Gudjonsson GH: The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions: A Handbook. New York: Wiley, 2003
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