Admissions and Confessions – Legal Approach
By Shri Y. Srinivasa Rao, Principal Assistant Sessions Judge, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh
TABLE OF CONTENTS:-
- Admission and Confession
- Twin tests to be applied to evaluate a confession
- Distinction between admissions and confessions
- Important Point about ‘Admissions’ and ‘Confessions’
- Retracted confession
- Extra-judicial confession
Introduction:- In Section 17 of Indian Evidence Act,1872, admission has been defended to be a statement, oral or documentary, which suggests any inference as to any fact in issue or relevant fact and which is made by any of the persons, and under the circumstances, mentioned in the subsequent Sections (Secs.18 to 21). The scheme of the provisions pertaining to admissions/confessions under the Indian Evidence Act (spelt out in Section 17 to 31) makes admissions/confessions admissible (even though they are rebuttable) because the author of the statement acknowledges a fact to his own detriment. This is based on the simple logic (noticed above), that no individual would acknowledge his/her liability/culpability unless true.
Admission and Confession:- An admission constitutes substantial piece of evidence for proving facts incorporated therein, Vathsala Manickavasagam v. N. Ganesan, (2013) 9 SCC 152. “Admission” includes one that can be inferred from facts and circumstances of case without any dispute, Charanjit Lal Mehra v. Kamal Saroj Mahajan, (2005) 11 SCC 279. See. Sections 17 to 21 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
Classification of Confessions:
- Confessions made to the Police;
- Confessions made to the Magisterial Officers; and
- Confessions made to other persons. Ss. 24–30 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872.
An authoritative pronouncement about ‘confession’ is ….
” …. a confession must either admit in terms the offence, or at any rate substantially all the facts which constitutes the offence. An admission of a gravely incriminating fact, even a conclusively incriminating fact, is not of itself a confession, eg. An admission that the accused is the owner of an was in recent possession of the knife or revolver which caused a death ………………….. …………………………
have a general term for use in the three following articles, confession secured by inducement, made upon oath, made under a promise of secrecy. The definition is not contained in the Evidence Act, 1872, and in that Act it would not be consistent with the natural use of language to construe confession as a statement by an accused ‘suggesting the inference that he committed the crime”. See. Pakala Narayana vs. Emperor, [AIR 1939 privy Council 47.
Twin tests to be applied to evaluate a confession:
(1) whether the confession was perfectly voluntary and
(2) if so, whether it is true and trustworthy.
If the first test is not satisfied the question of applying the second test does not arise. Then the Court indicated one broad method by which a confession can be evaluated. It was said: “The Court should carefully examine the confession and compare it with the rest of the evidence, in the light of the surrounding circumstances and probabilities of the case. If on such examination and comparison, the confession appears to be a probable catalogue of events and naturally fits in with the rest of the evidence and the surrounding circumstances, it may be taken to have satisfied the second test. See. Shankaria vs State Of Rajasthan, 1978 (3) SCC 435.
Distinction between admissions and confessions :— On a combined reading of Sections 17 to 21 of the Evidence Act it is manifest that an oral or documentary statement made by a party or his authorised agent, suggesting any inference as to any fact in issue or relevant fact may be proved against a party to the proceeding or his authorised agent as “admission” but, apart from exceptional cases (as contained in Section 21), such a statement cannot be proved by or on their behalf. On this point the distinction between “admission” and “confession” needs to be appreciated. Only voluntary and direct acknowledgement of guilt is a confession but when a confession falls short of actual admission of guilt it may nevertheless be used as evidence against the person who made it or his authorised agent as an “admission” under Section 21. “A statement made by an accused person, if it is an admission, is admissible in evidence under Section 21 of the Evidence Act, unless the statement amounts to a confession and was made to a person in authority in consequence of some improper inducement, threat or promise or was made to a Police Officer or was made at a time when the accused was in custody of a Police Officer. If a statement was made by the accused in the circumstances just mentioned its admissibility will depend upon the determination of the question whether it does not amount to a confession. If it amounts to a confession, it will be inadmissible, but if it does not amount to a confession, it will be admissible under Section 21 of the Act as an admission, provided that it suggests an inference as to a fact which is in issue in or relevant to, the case and was not made to a Police Officer in the course of an investigation under Chapter XIV of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Secondly, a statement made by an accused person is admissible against others who are being jointly tried with him only if the statement amounts to a confession. Where the statement falls short of a confession, it is admissible only against its maker as an admission and not against those who are being jointly tried with him”, CBIv. V.C. Shukla, (1998) 3 SCC 410 (1998) 3 SCC 410: 1998 SCC (Cri) 761.
” The distinction between admissions and confessions is of considerable importance for two reasons. Firstly, a statement made by an accused person, if it is an admission, is admissible in evidence under Section 21 of the evidence Act, unless the Statement amounts to a confession and was made to a person in authority in consequence of some improper inducement, threat or promise, or was made at a time when the accused was in custody of a police officer. If a statement was made by the accused in the circumstance just mentioned it s admissibility will depend upon the determination of the question whether it does not does not amount to a confession. If it amounts to a confession, it will be inadmissible, but if it does not amount to a confession. If it amounts to a confession. If it amounts to a confession, it will be inadmissible, but if it does not amount to a confession, it will be admissible under Section 21 of the Act as an admission, provided that it suggests an inference as to a fact which is in issue in, or relevant to, the case and was not made to a police officer in the course of an investigation under Chapter XIV of the Code of criminal procedure. Secondly, a statement made by an accused person is admissible against others who are being jointly tried with him only if the statement amounts to a confession. Where the statement falls short of a confession, it is admissible only against its maker as an admission and not against those who are being jointly tried with him. Therefore, from the point of view of Section 30 of the Evidence Act also the distinction between and admission and a confession is of fundamental importance.” See. CBI Vs.Shukla, (1998) 3 SCC 410.
Important Point about ‘Admissions’ and ‘Confessions’:-
- An admission is a statement-oral or documentary which enables the court to draw an inference as to any fact in issue or relevant fact. It is trite to say that every confession must necessarily be an admission, but, every admission does not necessarily amount to a confession.
- Ss. 17 to 31 define admissions/confessions, and also, the admissibility and inadmissibility of admissions/confessions. While Sections 17 to 23 deal with admissions, the law as to confessions is embodied in Section 24 to 30 of the Indian Evidence Act.
- An admission or a confession to be relevant must pertain to a “fact in issue” or a “relevant fact”.
- Sec. 5 (and consequently Section 6 to 16) of the Evidence Act are inescapably intertwined with admissible admissions/confessions.
- Admissions and confessions are exceptions to the “hearsay” rule.
- ‘Confessions’-which is a terminology used in criminal law is a species of ‘admissions’ as defined in Section 17 of the Indian Evidence Act.
- Section 24 of the Evidence Act which provides, that a confession made by an accused person is irrelevant in a criminal proceeding, if such confession has been caused by inducement, threat or promise.
- Section 25 of the Evidence Act contemplates, that a confession made to a police officer cannot be proved “as against a person accused of any offence”.
- Under Section 26 of the Evidence Act, a confession made by a person while in custody of the police, cannot “be proved as against such person” (unless it falls within the exception contemplated by the said Section itself). The gamut of the bar contemplated under Sections 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act, is however marginally limited by way of a proviso thereto, recorded in Section 27 of the Evidence Act. The decision of the Privy Council in Pulukuri Kotayya Vs. Emperor, AIR 1947 PC 67), which has been described as a locus classicus, had set at rest much of the controversy that centered round the interpretation of Section 27 of Indian Evidence Act.
- The crucial expression used in Section 30 is “the Court may take into consideration such confession”. These words imply that the confession of a co- accused cannot be elevated to the status of substantive evidence which can form the basis of conviction of the co-accused. See. Bhuboni Sabu Vs King, AIR 1947 PC 257. See also. State Of Maharashtra vs Kamal Ahmed Mohd. Vakil Ansari, (2013) 12 SCC 17.
Retracted confession:- Dealing with retracted confession, a four-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court speaking through His Lordhsip Hon’ble Sri Justice Subba Rao, J, in Pyare Lal v. State of Assam (AIR 1957 SC 216), clarified the legal position thus:
“A retracted confession may form the legal basis of a conviction if the court is satisfied that it was true and was voluntarily made. But it has been held that a court shall not base a conviction on such a confession without corroboration. It is not a rule of law, but is only rule of prudence. It cannot even be laid down as an inflexible rule of practice or prudence that under no circumstances such a conviction can be made without corroboration, for a court may, in a particular case, be convicted of the absolute truth of a confession and prepared to act upon it without corroboration; but it may be laid down as a general rule of practice that it is unsafe to rely upon a confession, much less on a retracted confession, unless the court is satisfied that the retracted confession is true and voluntarily made and has been corroborated in material particulars.”
Extra-judicial confession:- it is the settled position of law that extra judicial confession, if true and voluntary, can be relied upon by the court to convict the accused for the commission of the crime alleged. Despite inherent weakness of extra- judicial confession as an item of evidence, it cannot be ignored when shown that such confession was made before a person who has no reason to state falsely and his evidence is credible. The evidence in the form of extra- judicial confession made by the accused before the witness cannot be always termed to be tainted evidence. Corroboration of such evidence is required only by way of abundant caution. If the court believes the witness before whom the confession is made and is satisfied that it was true and voluntarily made, then the conviction can be founded on such evidence alone. The aspects which have to be taken care of are the nature of the circumstances, the time when the confession is made and the credibility of the witnesses who speak for such a confession. That apart, before relying on the confession, the court has to be satisfied that it is voluntary and it is not the result of inducement, threat or promise as envisaged under Section 24 of the Act or brought about in suspicious circumstances to circumvent Sections 25 and 26. See. Jagroop Singh vs State Of Punjab, (2012) 11 SCC 768.
As to what should be the legal approach of the Court called upon to convict a person primarily in the light of the confession or a retracted confession has been succinctly summarized in Bharat vs. State of U.P.,. 1971 (3) SCC 950]. Hidayatullah, C.J., speaking for a three-Judge Bench observed thus: “Confessions can be acted upon if the court is satisfied that they are voluntary and that they are true. The voluntary nature of the confession depends upon whether there was any threat, inducement or promise and its truth is judged in the context of the entire prosecution case. The confession must fit into the proved facts and not run counter to them. When the voluntary character of the confession and its truth are accepted, it is safe to rely on it. Indeed a confession, if it is voluntary and true and not made under any inducement or threat or promise, is the most patent piece of evidence against the maker. Retracted confession, however, stands on a slightly different footing. As the Privy Council once stated, in India it is the rule to find a confession and to find it retracted later. A court may take into account the retracted confession, but it must look for the reasons for the making of the confession as well as for its retraction, and must weigh the two to determine whether the retraction affects the voluntary nature of the confession or not. If the court is satisfied that it was retracted because of an after-thought or advice, the retraction may not weigh with the court if the general facts proved in the case and the tenor of the confession as made and the circumstances of its making and withdrawal warrant its user. All the same, the courts do not act upon the retracted confession without finding assurance from some other sources as to the guilt of the accused. Therefore, it can be stated that a true confession made voluntarily may be acted upon with slight evidence to corroborate it, but a retracted confession requires the general assurance that the retraction was an after-thought and that the earlier statement was true. This was laid down by this Court in an earlier case reported in Subramania Gounden v. State of Madras,1958 SCR 428.”