It is a well-established principles of law that a suspect has a fundamental human right of refraining from answering any question put to him for the purpose of discovering whether he has committed the criminal offence or not. It’s only where it is reasonable for him to make some response to the allegation made against him that his subsequent silence can be used as evidence against him.
What is A Confessional Statement?
A confessional statements is defined as an acknowledgment in express words, by the accused in a criminal case, of the truth of the main fact charged or of some essential part of it. It can also defined as; ‘an admission, in whole or in part, made by an accused person of his guilt, which at common law was made admissible if made voluntarily. ‘
According to the Evidence Act 2011, a confession or confessional statement is an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed the crime.
However, its beyond dispute that a voluntary taken confessional statements of a suspect has the highest place of authenticity when it comes to proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt. And on the same parlance, it’s very far from any iota of doubt that, a confession can only be in respect of a matter within the knowledge of the person confessing otherwise, it will be worthless if it relates to matters outside of that knowledge or experience.
It’s a well-known principle of law that, the confessional statements must be made by the accused himself and not by any other person. On the same vein, a suspect cannot confess to the acts of another or other person. This position was maintained in the case of R V HULBERT, where the court held that the accused could confess on a charge of handling stolen goods, that she received the goods, knowing or believing them to be stolen, but she could not confess that they were stolen, since this was something that she had merely been told.
The above principle was further reiterated in the case of COMPTROLLER OF CUSTOMS V WESTERN ELECTRIC CO. Ltd where it was held that, the accused could not confess as to the countries of origin of various goods because the admission was made upon reading the marks and labels on those goods and was of no more evidential value than those marks and labels themselves.
TYPES OF CONFESSIONAL STATEMENTS
There are two types of confessional statements namely, Formal or judicial confessions and Informal or Extra Judicial confessions.
(A). FORMAL OR JUDICIAL CONFESSIONS
These are confessions made in court before a Judge or Magistrate or another tribunal. Example is where the accused pleads guilty to a charge upon same being read to him by the court. In light of this, a judicial confession can be regarded as a plea of guilty on arraignment, if made freely by a person in a fit state of mind.
It therefore follows that, the law is clear that a confessional statement made in judicial proceedings is of greater force or value than all other proofs provided that, it is direct, true, positive as far as the charges are concerned and satisfactorily proved. Little wonder why such a confession by itself alone is sufficient without further corroboration to warrant a conviction.
It was clearly held in the case of GBADAMOSI V THE STATE, that for a statement of the accused to constitute a confession, the statement must admit or acknowledge that the maker of the statement committed the offences for which he is charged and in so doing be clear, precise and unequivocal.
(B) INFORMAL OR EXTRA JUDICIAL CONFESSIONS
These are confessions made out of court. They’re those obtaining during investigations of the police officers or other law enforcement agents. Its any statements made outside the court by an accused person or a suspect tending to show that he is guilty of the offence for which he is charged or suspected.
It must be noted that, extra Judicial confessions, unlike the judicial confessions must pass the strict test of admissibility as established in the case of SAIDU V THE STATE, where it was stated by the court, that the rules of admissibility of confessional statement of an accused are stringently observed and exclude the admission of such confessional statement by consent or from the bar even if without objection by the defense.
Hence, it’s must be settled in mind that, an extra judicial confession may properly be made to any person, or collection of or body of persons. But there must be something to show that the accused had previous association with those people and that he could repose confidence in them and make an extra judicial confession involving him in a crime.
Extra judicial confessions may be oral or written though as a practical matter police interrogator normally record confessional statements volunteered by an accused person since these are generally viewed as more reliable. These statements are usually tendered in court during trials.
EFFECT OF A CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT
SECTION 29(1) OF THE EVIDENCE ACT 2011 provides that in any proceeding, a confession made by a defendant may be given in evidence against him in so far as it is relevant to any matter in issue in the proceedings and is not excluded by the court in pursuance of this section.
However, it must be borne in mind that, the burden of proving that a confession was voluntarily made rests on the prosecution in criminal proceedings. The burden involves the same standard as the proof of guilt, i.e. beyond reasonable.
Furthermore, a confessional statement must be voluntary and consistent with other evidence in court. Where a confession is made voluntarily, it is deemed a relevant fact and admissible against the maker pursuant to Section 27(2) of the Evidence Act. On the other hand, In an event where the accused denies making the extra judicial statement, the court would look for some independent evidence, that is evidence outside the confession to make the confession probable.
SECTION 15(4) OF THE ACJA 2015 provides that, Where a suspect who is arrested with or without a warrant volunteers to make a confessional statement, the police officer shall ensure that the making and taking of the statement shall be in writing and may be recorded electronically on a retrievable video compact disc or such other audio visual means.
Without iota of doubt, an accused can be convicted on his confessional statement alone but it is desirable that some other evidences consistent with the confession is produced. Apart from voluntary confessions, a plea of guilty is also an excellent way to secure the conviction of an accused without the need for corroboration.
It is of critical importance to appreciate the fact that, a confessional statements must be accepted as a whole. Some parts of it cannot be accepted while others are rejected. Also, where an extra judicial confession was the result of the consumption of liquor by the accused and the witnesses fail to reproduce the confession in the exact words of the accused or in even the words as nearly as possible it should be excluded. Similarly, the court has the discretion to admit or exclude a confessional statement even if satisfied of its truth, that is, where the prosecution fails to prove its voluntariness.
The Evidence Act in section 29(2) provides that; where it is represented that the confession was or may have been obtained by oppression of the person who made it or likely in the circumstances existing at the time to render unreliable any confession which might be made by him in such consequence, the court shall not allow the confession to be given in evidence against him except in so far as the prosecution proves to the court beyond reasonable doubt that the confession (notwithstanding that it may be true) was not obtained in a manner contrary to the provisions of this section. The court may of its own motion require such proof. i.e any confessional statement made involuntarily is subject to being disregarded by the Court.
Similarly, where there are allegations of inducement, threats or duress in the making of a confessional statement under investigation. The trial court has a duty to conduct a trial within a trial to determine the voluntariness of the confession and the proof by the prosecution, of the voluntariness of the confession is beyond reasonable doubt before the confession can be admitted.
According to OBASEKI, JSC, it has long been established as a positive rule of law which has found a healthy place in our statutes … that no statement by an accused is admissible in evidence against him unless it is shown by the prosecution to have been a voluntary statement…
PROCEDURE OF OBTAINING THE CONFESSIONAL STATEMENTS
Generally, the mode of obtaining statements by the police is to first administer a word of caution on the suspect. If the suspect can write in English, it is advisable for the police to allow him freely pen it down by himself. Similarly, If the suspect speaks or writes another language different from English, the police should allow the suspect to make his statement in that language. It was thereafter, that an interpreter may translate the statement in to English language.
It’s worthy of note that, If the suspect cannot write, the statement must first be recorded in the language in which the suspect made the statement. Where an interpreter is used in obtaining a statement, the statement is inadmissible unless the person who interpreted it is called as a witness as well as the person who wrote the statement down.
More so, If a suspect is making a confessional statement admitting a crime, it will be necessary for the police to take the suspect and the statement to a superior police officer for confirmation and endorsement in line with the Judges Rules.
It’s of pertinent importance to have it settled in mind that, Statements are to be taken voluntarily from suspects and should not be obtained in a questionable manner or in a question and answer manner. Thus, any statements made contrary to this, may not be admissible in court as evidence.
However, these are steps to be followed in obtaining a confessional statements;
- SECTION 15(4) of the ACJA 2015 provides that, Where a suspect who is arrested with or without a warrant volunteers to make a confessional statement, the police officer shall ensure that the making and taking of the statement shall be in writing and may be recorded electronically on a retrievable video compact disc or such other audio-visual means.
Furthermore, SECTION 17(1) & (2)OF THE ACJA 2015; provides that;
(1) Where a suspect is arrested on allegation of having committed an offence, his statement shall be taken, if he so wishes to make a statement.
(2) Such statement may be taken in the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice, or where he has no legal practitioner of his choice, in the presence of an officer of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria or an official of a Civil Society Organization or a Justice of the Peace or any other person of his choice. Provided that the Legal Recording of statement of suspect. Practitioner or any other person mentioned in this subsection shall not interfere while the suspect is making his statement, except for the purpose of discharging his role as a legal practitioner. Crucially, a suspect need to be cautioned, before he made any confessional statement pursuant to the judges rules i.e he ought to be properly informed that, he is not obliged to say anything unless he wish to do so, and whatever he say may be put in writing and given in evidence.
- However, by SECTION 31 OF THE EVIDENCE ACT 2011, a confessional statement that is otherwise relevant shall not be irrelevant only because of the fact that the maker of such statement was not warned that he was not bound to make such a statement and that evidence of it might be given. The case of USMAN V. STATE is well illustrative in this aspect, it was held therein that breaches of the Judges Rules do not render a document inadmissible.
By and large, it must be put in mind that, the question of the voluntariness of a confessional statement is tested at the time the statement is sought to be tendered in evidence and any objections raise after already being tendered would be dismissed, and this position of the law is well demonstrated in the case of OSENI V STATE supra.
About The Writer
ADEBOWALE SAHEED is a Law student of Faculty of Law, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto.