Confessions and Evidence Law: A Critical Analysis of the Supreme Court’s Judgment in Rajesh v State of MP
Confessions are statements made by an accused person admitting or implicating himself in a crime. They are often considered as the most reliable and conclusive evidence against the accused, as they are presumed to be voluntary and truthful. However, confessions can also be influenced by various factors, such as coercion, torture, inducement, threat, or ignorance of the law. Therefore, the law has laid down certain safeguards and conditions for the admissibility of confessions in a court of law.
One of the most important provisions related to confessions is Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which acts as an exception to the general rule that confessions made to the police are not admissible. Section 27 states that if any fact is discovered in consequence of information received from an accused person in custody, then so much of such information as relates distinctly to the fact thereby discovered may be proved. This means that if a confession leads to the recovery of material objects connected with the crime, such as a dead body, a weapon, or ornaments, then that part of the confession can be used as evidence against the accused.
However, Section 27 also imposes two essential conditions for its applicability: the person must be ‘accused of any offence,’ and they must be in ‘police custody’ at the time of making the confession. These conditions are meant to ensure that the confession is relevant and reliable, and not obtained by any illegal or improper means.
In this essay, we will critically analyze the Supreme Court’s judgment in Rajesh v State of MP (2023 LiveLaw (SC) 814), where the Court applied these conditions and held that a confession made to the police before being formally arrested and accused of any offence is not admissible under Section 27 of the Evidence Act.
Facts of the Case
The case involved the kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old boy by three persons: Omprakash Yadav, Raja Yadav, and Rajesh Yadav. The boy was abducted on 28.03.2013 and his body was recovered on 29.03.2013 from a well near a farm owned by Omprakash Yadav. The police registered an FIR against unknown persons for kidnapping and murder.
During the investigation, the police interrogated Rajesh Yadav on 29.03.2013 at around 11:00 am and recorded his statement. In his statement, he confessed to his involvement in the crime and disclosed the names of his co-accused and the location of the dead body and other material objects. Based on his confession, the police recovered the body, a knife, a rope, a motorcycle, and some clothes from various places.
The police arrested Rajesh Yadav at 18:30 hours on 29.03.2013 and charged him with kidnapping and murder along with his co-accused. The police also relied on his confession as evidence against him under Section 27 of the Evidence Act.
Issues before the Court
The main issue before the Supreme Court was whether made to the police before being formally arrested and accused of any offence was admissible under Section 27 of the Evidence Act.
The appellant Rajesh Yadav contended that his confession was not admissible under Section 27 as he was not ‘accused of any offence’ and was not in ‘police custody’ at the time of making it. He argued that he was merely taken to the police station for questioning and was not informed about his rights or status as an accused. He also claimed that his confession was involuntary and coerced by the police.
The respondent State of MP contended that Rajesh Yadav’s confession was admissible under Section 27 as he was ‘accused of any offence’ and was in ‘police custody’ at the time of making it. The State argued that he was taken to the police station as a suspect and was aware of his involvement in the crime. The State also claimed that his confession was voluntary and led to the discovery of crucial facts.
Analysis of the Court’s Judgment regarding confessions
The Supreme Court examined Section 27 of the Evidence Act and its judicial interpretation by various authorities. The Court referred to several landmark cases, such as Pulukuri Kotayya v King Emperor (AIR 1947 Privy Council 67), Bodhraj alias Bodha v State of Jammu & Kashmir (2002) 8 SCC 45, State of Karnataka v David Rozario (2002) 7 SCC 728, Ashish Jain v Makrand Singh (2019) 3 SCC 770, and Boby v State of Kerala (2023 LiveLaw (SC) 50), where it was held that the conditions of being ‘accused of any offence’ and being in ‘police custody’ are indispensable for the applicability of Section 27 of the Evidence Act.
The Court observed that these conditions are meant to ensure that the confession is relevant and reliable, and not obtained by any illegal or improper means. The Court emphasized that the information given by the accused must be in the nature of a confession, and not a mere statement or admission. The Court also stressed that the information must relate distinctly to the fact discovered, and not to any other fact or circumstance.
The Court applied these principles to the facts of the case and concluded that Rajesh Yadav’s confession was not admissible under Section 27 of the Evidence Act. The Court noted that at the time of making the confession, Rajesh Yadav was not ‘accused of any offence’ as he did not figure as an accused in the FIR and was not informed about his rights or status as an accused. The Court also noted that he was not in ‘police custody’ as he was not formally arrested or detained by the police. The Court held that his arrest at 18:30 hours on 29.03.2013 resulted in his actual ‘police custody’, and any confession made before that would be hit by Section 26 of the Evidence Act, which prohibits confessions made to the police except in the presence of a magistrate.
The Court further held that the purported discovery of the dead body, the murder weapon, and other material objects, even if it was at the behest of Rajesh Yadav, cannot be proved against him, as he was not ‘accused of any offence’ and was not in ‘police custody’ at the point of time he allegedly made the confession. The Court observed that this lapse on the part of the police was fatal to the prosecution’s case, as it essentially turned upon the ‘recoveries’ made at the behest of Rajesh Yadav, purportedly under Section 27 of the Evidence Act.
The Court also considered the constitutional validity of Rajesh Yadav’s confession under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India, which states that no person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. The Court referred to its previous decisions, such as Nandini Satpathy v PL Dani (1978) 2 SCC 424 and Selvi v State of Karnataka (2010) 7 SCC 263, where it was held that Article 20(3) protects an accused person from being subjected to any form of compulsion or coercion during interrogation or investigation. The Court held that Rajesh Yadav’s confession was involuntary and self-incriminatory, and thus violated Article 20(3) of the Constitution.
The Court also examined the other evidence produced by the prosecution, such as eyewitness testimony, call records, CCTV footage, and forensic reports, and found them to be insufficient and unreliable to prove Rajesh Yadav’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The Court also noted that there were several discrepancies and contradictions in the prosecution’s case, such as the motive, the identity of the kidnappers, and the cause of death.
The Court therefore acquitted Rajesh Yadav of all charges and set aside his conviction and sentence. The Court also upheld the conviction and sentence of Omprakash Yadav under Section 364A read with Section 120B of IPC, while commuting the death penalty of Raja Yadav to life imprisonment under Section 302 read with Section 120B and Section 364A read with Section 120B of IPC.
Conclusion about confessions
The Supreme Court’s judgment in Rajesh v State of MP is a significant contribution to the jurisprudence on confessions and evidence law. The judgment reaffirms the importance of safeguarding the rights and dignity of an accused person during interrogation and investigation. The judgment also highlights the need for ensuring that confessions are voluntary and truthful, and not obtained by any illegal or improper means.
The judgment also demonstrates the application of Section 27 of the Evidence Act and its exceptions in a nuanced and rigorous manner. The judgment clarifies that Section 27 is not a carte blanche for admitting any confession made to the police, but a limited exception for proving certain facts discovered as a result of such confession. The judgment also emphasizes that Section 27 is subject to two essential conditions: being ‘accused of any offence’ and being in ‘police custody’, which must be strictly complied with by both the police and the courts.
The judgment also reflects on the constitutional validity of confessions under Article 20(3) of the Constitution, which protects an accused person from being compelled to be a witness against himself. The judgment upholds this fundamental right and rejects any confession that violates it.
The judgment also illustrates the importance of evaluating all evidence in a holistic and objective manner, without relying solely on confessions or recoveries. The judgment shows that confessions are not conclusive evidence against an accused person, but only corroborative evidence that must be supported by other independent and credible evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, forensic reports, CCTV footage, call records, or motive. The judgment also shows that the courts must scrutinize the confessions and the circumstances under which they were made, and ensure that they are voluntary, truthful, and relevant. The judgment also shows that the courts must respect the constitutional rights of the accused person and protect them from any form of compulsion or coercion during interrogation or investigation.