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This article is written by Samridhi Srivastava From Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida. It will provide insight to the Article 20 of the Indian Constitution concerning the case law. 


The Supreme Court of India in Nandini Satpathy vs. Dani (P.L.) And Anr case gave an interpretation regarding the right of an accused person to be silent while police interrogation in relation to Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution and Section 161(1) of the CrPC. Article 20 of the Constitution of India provides fundamental rights to its citizen to be protected against any criminal offences that stand against him that is Article 20(1) of the Constitution is also known as Ex Post-facto which means that a person who is charged for an offence can not be charged against any other act which is not in violation of any existent act and also it says that a person will only be charged for the penalty which is enforced at the time of the offence took place.

For instance, A committed a crime in 1950 and was booked under IPC but while A’s trial was in process in 1951 an amendment was introduced regarding increasing the punishment for the violator, however, A will be protected under Article 20(1) and he not will be punished under the amended provisions of the law. Article 20(2) of the Constitution is known as double jeopardy which means that no one can be punished twice for the same crime. Article 20(3) of the Constitution is also known as self-incrimination which means that this particular article gives a right to an accused person to not stand a witness against himself i.e., a person who is booked in the violation of any act or provision of the law has right to not give statements as a witness and such person can also claim for it. Also, it is based on legal maxim Nemo tenetur prodere accussare seipsum which states that no man is bound to accuse himself.

Article 20(3) of the constitution is dealt with section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which says that while examining any person regarding the charges he is booked for he has to answer every question of the investigating officer truthfully in Nandini Sathpathy vs. P.L. Dani case by the Supreme Court of India. However, this article will give an insight into the right to remain silent of the accused in reference to the case law. 


The former CM of Orissa was booked under Section 5(2) read with Section 5(1)(d) and (e) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 along with Section 161, 165, 120B and 109 of the IPC by the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Vigilance, Cuttack. The appellant along with other persons who were involved in the disproportionate asset case was interrogated on the basis of a written series of questions. Disproportionate asset means when a person owns assets that exceed their total legal annual income. The charges are that she during her tenure as the Chief Minister has misused her political power and has gained illegal gratification which has increased her wealth.

However, as her interrogation was on the process she imposed her fundamental right under Article 20(3) that is right against self- incrimination can also be referred to as the right to be silent against which a person is booked. Again, because of this act, she was booked before the Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate, Sadar, Cuttack under Section 179 of IPC on the complaint of DSP, Vigilance, Cuttack and a summons was passed against her.

On this, the accused challenged the rationality of the power of the judicial magistrate by moving to the High Court under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution and Section 141 of the CrPC. But the High Court failed to answer the limit of section 161(2) of CrPC when an accused imposes Article 20(3) during police interrogation because of which the plea of the appellant was rejected. And on receiving a certificate she appealed under Article 132(1) in the Supreme Court. 


The following are the issues that arose from this case:

  1. Do a suspected accused have a right to sanction their right to be silent who has committed a criminal offence? 
  2. What are the probable criteria for an accused to impose Article 20(3) while the investigation of the police is in the process? Can the accuse also has an option to ignore questions which can expose his act?
  3. When does the shield of remaining silence come into action? Is it only available to an accused in the court or does it protect them from incriminating themself from the investigation of the police?
  4. How does Article 20(3) cover the limit of the cryptic expression when someone is forced to present against itself? 
  5. When a person presents himself as a witness does it lead to a testimony where a person can make themself guilty for wrongdoing or from a series of answers obtained will it lead to proving or demonstrating guilt?
  6. What are the boundaries of section 161 of CrPC? Do answers which are of inculpatory characteristics that have a probable chance of exposing a person while an investigation or is in the trail are allowed?
  7. Who is referred to in section 161 of CrPc when ‘any person’ is inferred? Is it only related to a witness or does it also include accuse?
  8. At what stage does an answer result in self-incrimination or holds the propensity to expose? How will a distinction be set between a nocent-innocent, acceptable and barred interrogation?
  9. Do section 179 of the IPC have mens rea as its essential ingredient and if it is then what are its characteristics? Can an accuse will be salvaged when any answer includes the capability of exposing their guilt?   
  10. When does section 161 of the CrPC and section 179 of the IPC sets the boundary for benefit of doubt? 

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The arguments that are given by the lawyer of the appellant are as follows:

  1. Section 161(1) of CrPC does not include an accused with the ambit of ‘any person’.
  2. The appellant also contended that when a series of questions are being asked from the accused will form a chain of a link to the case of the prosecution but questions which are not related will lead the appellant in exposing to other criminal charge or charges because there are other cases against which a charge-sheet can be produced. 
  3. The umbrella of self-incrimination operates when the accused answer to any question can create an inculpatory gleam. 


The arguments that are given by the learned counsel of the respondent side contented that the Article 20(3) and section 161(2) of CrPC does not go hand in hand during the stage of police interrogation, in fact, Article 20(3) can only be operated when an accused is presented in the court for trial.   


In the Nandini Satpathy vs. P.L.Dani case, the appellant was Nandini Satpathy and the respondent was P.L.Dani. The judgment was given by a  3-bench judge that includes  Justice JS, Justice V.D.Tulzapurkar, and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer. 

For answering the defendant’s and respondent’s arguments the court moved to answer the first argument that whether Section 160 and Section 161 of CrPC holds power during police interrogation? To answer this query the court quoted the judgment of the Privy council in the case of Pakala Narayana Swami v. Emperor where the judge gave a verdict regarding the limits of section 161 of CrPC and said that ‘any person’ includes an accused and suspected wrongdoer who is believed to be familiar with the facts of the case by the police and this same verdict was given in Mahabir Mandal vs. the State of Bihar.

The Court moved forward to the question of the constitutional validity of Article 20(3) i.e. when does an accused is protected from answering questions that can cause self-incrimination? To this, the court concluded that a person has his fundamental rights intact even if he is not in the court for claiming their right to be silent. 

However, for explaining its ambit the court took the reference of M.P. Sharma’s case and said that the umbrella of Article 20 (3) applies not only in the Courtroom where an accused is compelled to self-incriminate himself for testimony but is also protected when he is forced to self-incriminatory statements at the time of police investigation. Hence it extends to suspected accused against whom FIR is being lodged and all investigative processes which can support the charges of the prosecution. 

Also, while explaining the ambit of Article 20(3) the court took cognizance of the cruel and brutal methodology that police take against an accused so that he accepts his wrongdoing. So, the framers of the constitution considered the mental and physical torture an accused person has to face while police interrogate because of which the ambit of Article 20 (3) is applied from the initial stage of any criminal trial i.e. when the police start their interrogation with the accused.

The court further gave a distinction between an incriminatory statement and a compelled testimony and mentioned that it is not necessary that all relevant answers are criminatory and statements that appear to be criminatory cannot be said to be a confession. The likelihood of exposing someone’s criminal charges are much broader than the charges against which he is summoned. So, for settling the issue the court has to take into consideration various factors and when an accused is answering the questions it should be innocent in its characters but the result of every answer he is giving should prove him guilty. The accused is expected to answer those questions which do not criminate himself. 

Section 179 of IPC includes mens rea when an accused person does not intentionally turn down the claims but unknowingly neglects the charges. Also, the benefit of the doubt is awarded when the accused with his explanation points out acceptable grounds for doubt and he cannot be forced to do otherwise unless he is restricted to claim for his privileges. 

Hence, Article 20(3) with section 161(2) of CrPC has a broad concept and it protects the right to be silent. Therefore, the court accepted the appeal of the appellant.    


This case came as a light to those who are being forced to answer the police in-charge while he is interrogating them. The appellant of the case was an educated citizen she knew her fundamental rights and because of which she moved to the higher Courts for knowing the extent of imposing a person to speak truthfully against herself. In India, when an FIR is lodged against a person, the police, who is known as the protector of public’s interest, forces the accused person to speak truthfully and for gaining truth they end up compelling the suspect to accept the charges against themself but the most affected lot in our country is the uneducated person who is not aware that they have a right to be silent while in police custody or in the courts trial. 

The main role, in cases where a person is held in jail because of his crime, is of a judge and he has to understand the basic methodology of a police interrogation that includes mental and physical torture when a person is not aware for imposing his right under Article 20(3) because there is a possible chance of poor legal assistance to the vulnerable section of our society. However, this case opened doors for fair interrogation by the police. Because the main issue which arose from this particular case was the operation of Article 20(3) with section 161(2) of CrPC and it cleared the confusion for imposing it even at the initial stage of the investigation.  

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