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Confessions and its Relevance in Evidence Act

Confession in Evidence Act


Meaning and purpose

The substantive law governing confessions is outlined in sections 24 to 30 of the Evidence Act, while the procedural aspects are covered in sections 164, 281, and 463 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Confessions are admissible in criminal cases based on the same principle as admissions in civil cases—namely, the presumption that individuals won't make false statements against their own interest.

A person of sound mind and legal age, who provides a statement in clear, straightforward language, and hasn't been subjected to coercion, threats, or inducements, is bound by the content and plain meaning of their statement. The actions described in the confession must be attributed to their legal significance.

Confession and Evidence act

The term "confession" remains undefined within the Act. Essentially, a "confession" denotes an admission made by a person charged with a crime, implying or explicitly stating that they committed said crime.

This definition, as endorsed by Lord Atkin in Pakala Narain Swami v Emperor, asserts that a confession must either outright admit to the offence or at least encompass substantially all the facts constituting the offence. Mere admissions of highly incriminating facts, even if conclusively incriminating, do not necessarily constitute confessions.

For instance, acknowledging ownership and recent possession of a weapon involved in a crime without explaining another individual's possession does not amount to a confession.

In determining whether a statement qualifies as a confession, it must be examined in its entirety. A statement that merely suggests the inference of the accused's involvement in the crime, at most, does not qualify as a confession.

An admission of a highly incriminating fact alone does not suffice as a confession.

For instance, if an accused admits to being in the company of others who committed the crime without explicitly admitting their own involvement, such a statement cannot be construed as a confession of their participation in the crime. Therefore, it would be deemed inadmissible as evidence.

Forms of Confession in Evidence Act

Confessions can take various forms, including both judicial and extra-judicial confessions. A judicial confession occurs when a person admits to the crime directly to the court, while an extra-judicial confession is made outside the court to anyone other than a judge.

While judicial confessions are considered strong evidence, extra-judicial confessions are viewed with caution and are considered weaker evidence.

Confessions can be either written or oral. It's not necessary for a confession to be communicated to another person to be relevant. Even if a person speaks to themselves and their words are overheard by another, it can still be considered a confession.

However, according to a ruling by the Orissa High Court in Pandu Khadia v State of Orissa (1992 Cr LJ 762), a confession must be addressed to another person. This decision may be contested, as it's commonly understood that a confession can occur even when a person is speaking to themselves.

There's also debate regarding whether incriminating statements made by a person while talking in their sleep should be admitted as evidence.

Generally, such statements are not admissible because a person's judgement is significantly impaired during sleep, raising doubts about the reliability of such statements.

Extra-Judicial Confession

An extrajudicial confession, made to anyone outside the court, can take various forms, including direct admission of guilt or expressions of repentance.

Case laws

However, for an extrajudicial confession to be deemed reliable evidence, it must pass certain tests, including the reproduction of exact words, the reasons and motives behind the confession, and the trustworthiness of the person to whom the confession is made (Rahim Beg v State of U.P. AIR 1973 SC 343).

Courts have rejected evidence of confession when it was made to another under-trial or when the circumstances surrounding the confession were questionable (Heramba Brahma v State of Assam AIR 1982 SC 1595; Makhan Singh v State of Punjab AIR 1988 SC 1705).

For instance, a confession made to seek help without showing how the confidant could assist, or a confession made to someone with whom the accused had no special relationship, may be deemed unreliable.

Although extrajudicial confessions may have inherent weaknesses, courts can still rely on them if they believe the testimony regarding the confession. In some cases, an extrajudicial confession, supported by other evidence, can lead to a conviction without further corroboration (Vinayak Shivajirao v State (1998) 2 SCC 233). 

However, it is generally safer for courts to look for corroborating evidence to support the confession (State of Punjab v Gurdeep Singh (1999) 7 SCC 714).

It's important to note that an extrajudicial confession is distinct from a judicial confession, and the reliability of each should be assessed independently based on the facts and circumstances of the case (Dhananjaya Reddy v State of Karnataka (2001) 4 SCC 9). 

Each extrajudicial confession should be evaluated on its own merits, considering factors such as clarity, coherence, and absence of pressure.

In some instances, courts have deemed confessions admissible when made to close acquaintances under normal circumstances, while confessions made in vague or general settings may be considered less reliable (Vilas Pandurang Patil v State of Maharashtra AIR 2004 SC 3562; Kishan Lal v State of Rajasthan, 1999 Cr.L.J. 4070 (SC).

Similarly, confessions made under the influence of alcohol to strangers may be viewed sceptically (C.K. Raveendran v State of Kerala AIR 2000 SC 369).

Accepted as a whole or rejected as a whole

When dealing with confessions and admissions, a well-established rule is that they must be either accepted as a whole or rejected as a whole. The court cannot cherry-pick parts to accept or reject based on its preference.

If a statement contains self-exculpatory matter, it cannot be considered a confession if the exculpatory part includes facts that, if true, would negate the alleged offence. A confession must either admit to the offence outright or include substantially all the facts constituting the offence.

However, if the exculpatory part of a confessional statement is not only inherently improbable but also contradicted by other evidence, the court has the authority to accept the inculpatory part. In such cases, the court can piece together the inculpatory part with other evidence to convict the accused.

Therefore, the exculpatory part may be excluded if it is disproven by the evidence on record or if it appears to be false. When a statement treated as a confessional statement contains both exculpatory and inculpatory statements, the court can reject the exculpatory part if it is contradicted by other evidence and rely on the inculpatory part proven to be true by the evidence on record.

Confession under threat or inducement

Under Section 24, a confession made by an accused becomes irrelevant if it is elicited through inducement, threat, or promise. For such inducement, threat, or promise to render the confession irrelevant, it must meet three criteria:

1. It must pertain to the charge against the accused.

2. It must originate from a person in authority.

3. It must reasonably lead the accused to believe that by making the confession, they would receive some temporal advantage or avoid some temporal harm in relation to the ongoing legal proceedings against them.

Confession Made to a Police Officer

Section 25 of the law encompasses confessions made by the accused when they were free and not under police custody, as well as confessions made before any investigation has commenced.

It's crucial to note that any part of a first information report (FIR) lodged by the accused with the police cannot be admitted into evidence if it contains a confessional statement. However, it may be admitted to establish the accused as the author of the report.

In cases where an FIR provided by the accused contains both a confession and incriminating facts, the confessional part is not admissible as evidence, except to the limited extent permitted by Section 27. However, the non-confessional part can be used as evidence of the accused's conduct under Section 8.

For instance, a confessional statement within an FIR might be used to determine if the case falls within an exception to Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or to shed light on the circumstances leading to the incident.

Moreover, a confession contained in a letter written and signed by the accused and addressed to a police officer may be deemed admissible, as the letter was not composed in the presence of the police officer.

Confession in Police Custody

Under Section 26, any confession made by an individual while they are in police custody, unless made in the immediate presence of a Magistrate, cannot be used as evidence against them. This provision aims to prevent potential coercion or undue influence by law enforcement during interrogation.

The term "custody" extends beyond formal arrest and encompasses situations where the individual is under the control or surveillance of the police, regardless of the location. Thus, even if the individual is detained in a home, open area, or during transportation, they are considered to be in police custody if under police control.

Confessions made in the absence of police officers, such as to villagers, tonga drivers, or doctors while under police supervision, are generally deemed irrelevant under Section 26. Similarly, confessions made to fellow prisoners while in jail are also excluded.

However, if a confession occurs outside the immediate vicinity of a police station or during police surveillance, it may not fall under the purview of Section 26. For instance, if a confession is made to local individuals and later recorded in a police station, it may not be affected by Section 26.

In the case of State (NCT of Delhi) v Navjot Sandhu (2005) 11 SCC 600, statements made by the accused to TV and press reporters in the presence of police and during police custody were deemed inadmissible under Section 26. This highlights the stringent application of the provision to prevent potential coercion or manipulation by law enforcement authorities.

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