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Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar (1966) : case analysis

Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar (1966) : case analysis

This article is written by Shenbaga Seeralan S., an advocate practising at the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court. It aims at discussing this landmark case in exhaustive depth. It tries to cover various aspects of the case, including facts, arguments, provisions, precedents, judgement, and the questions followed thereafter. This article also strives to give a personalised case analysis based on the rationale and morals on which the entire case is based upon.

Table of Contents

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  • Introduction 
  • Details of Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar (1966)
  • Facts of Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar (1966) 
  • Issues raised before the Supreme Court
  • Arguments of the parties in Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar (1966)
  • Law discussed in Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar (1966)
    • Provisions
      • Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
      • Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1972
      • Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 
      • Section 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 
      • Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 
      • Section 28 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 
      • Section 29 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 
      • Section 30 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 
      • Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 
      • Section 163 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 
      • Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 
    • Case Laws
  • Judgement in Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar (1966)
  • Inferences
  • Analysis of Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar (1966)
  • Hypothesis behind the confession
  • Conclusion 

Confession, a self exculpatory or inculpatory statement to express ones own perspective of an event. In legal terms, a confession stands as a corroboratory statement to the material evidence. In this article, we will try to analyse the case of Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar (1966) to understand the nature of confession, provisions related to confession, and legal standpoint. We also try to circumspect when confessions are admissible and when they are not. The Courts always have a sceptical look towards the confession, as is right to do so, since a taint can be easily inflicted over a confession through various means. They skim through various Acts and the corresponding provisions to scale the length of confession and its aftermath before delivering a judgement in this case. Along with the details and analysis of the case, we will also try to see the moral and humanitarian perspective of the judgement through this article.

Case name

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Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar

Case no

Criminal Appeal No. 37 of 1965

Equivalent Citation

1966 AIR 119

Act involved

The Indian Evidence Act (1872)

Important provisions

Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, (1860).

There was a quarrel between the accused and Ratni (the accused’s aunt) related to a property that Ratni gave away to her daughter and son-in-law. The accused claimed that since his aunt did not have any sons and she is a widow, he and his brother are entitled to inherit the property. This quarrel created a rift among them and incited the accused to have murderous thoughts. On August 11, 1963, around 7:00 a.m., the petitioner killed Somra( the son-in-law of Ratni) at a forest in Dungi Jharan Hills, followed by Chamin (the daughter of Ratni) in the field, and then Ratni and Dilu (the grandson of Ratni) at their home in Jamtoli village. The petitioner used an agricultural tool called Tangi ” to serve severe blows to all four who have been killed, after which the petitioner hid the bodies at the respective murder sites.

On confession to the police station, the petitioner, along with the sub-inspector, visited the murder sites, and the petitioner himself identified the sites where dead bodies were hidden and also showed the murder weapon to the investigating officer. The confession was recorded in Palkot police station, Ranchi, on August 11, 1963, at 3:15 p.m. on Aghnoo Nagesia. The report was made in writing by Sub Inspector H.P. Choudhury, and the appellant affixed his thumb impression on the report. On medical examination, the murder weapon was identified as the source of causing fatal blows, which happened to be the reason for their death. The size and cut of the wound on all four dead bodies also matched with the size and sharpness of Tangi. A prosecution witness pointed out that the petitioner was seen leaving for the forest around the time of the murder. All the recovery matched the confession exactly, including the position of dead bodies, sheets used to cover the dead bodies, the weapon of murder and its place of concealment, and the time of death. The motive and relevant facts also matched with the local information.

On the basis of his confession, an FIR (First Information Report) was filed under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. He was convicted and sentenced to death by the Judicial Commissioner of Chotanagpur. The guilty then went for a criminal appeal to the Honourable High Court of Patna in Criminal Appeal No. 200 of 1964, where the judgement of the Judicial Commissioner was confirmed and the death sentence was assured on November 9, 1964. This case is a criminal appeal to the judgement made by the Honourable High Court of Patna to the Honourable Supreme Court of India. The appellant was accused of murdering four of his relatives in cold blood, based on his incriminating confession to the local police station. The appellant, on special leave, appeals to the Honourable Supreme Court.

Judgement of the High Court

The accused, after being convicted by the trial court, appealed to the Honourable High Court of Patna in 1964. The High Court looked into the case with the same view as that of the trial court. The High Court took cognizance of the fact that the confession made by the accused was voluntary in nature and there was no coercion from the investigating officer. So, Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act can not be applied. Though, according to Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, a confession to a police officer cannot be proved, yet the evidence obtained out of it, proves the crime without any doubt. Also, the medical examination and the prosecution witness produced affirmativeness to the accusation. This led the High Court to derive the conclusion of upholding the conviction made under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, thereby dismissing the appeal made by the accused.

  1. Whether the entire portion of a confession to a police officer is inadmissible under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872?
  2. Whether a portion of the confession can be admissible and a portion can be non-admissible ?
  3. How can the exception given under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, related to confession be treated?

Petitioner 

The petitioner appealed to the Honourable Supreme Court through his advocate, Mr. K. K. Jain. The counsel claimed that under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, any statement made to the police officer shall not be used to prove against him or her. This was the major contention put forward by the counsel in defence of the accusation. It was argued that the entire case is based on the confessional statement made by the accused to the police officer. The counsel highlighted that any confessional statement should be obtained in the presence of any metropolitan magistrate or judicial magistrate, as mandated by Section 164(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. It was also brought to the notice of the bench that under Section 162 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, no statement to the police officer can be used as evidence for trial, and the accused need not affirm his or her signature to such a confession in writing. The advocate presented the precedent of Emperor v. Harman Kisha (1934), where it was held that the entire confessional report was inadmissible under Section 25 of the Act.

The counsel was clear in his point that when a confession is contended to be inadmissible, the entire portion of it should be considered as void. Acquiring information out of one portion and neglecting the other portion would serve injustice to the laws framed. The petitioner’s side claimed that according to Section 31 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, any type of admission can never be conclusive proof of an offence; rather, it may operate as an estoppel. It was argued that if the court allowed a part of the confessional statement to be proved against the accused without any material or conclusive evidence, then this would remain a wrong precedent for the forthcoming cases. It was pointed out that there was no direct eye witness to the actual occurrence of the murder. The petitioner, through his advocate, also contended that the reason confessional statements are prevented from being taken as evidence is that they might be obtained by force or an offer, which is prohibited under Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act. When a part of  such a confession is considered as evidence to prove an offence, then the entire case would be tampered. The counsel also firmly contended that the laws framed were based on public policy, so they should be followed word by word. Any contention can be met only by the legislature by amending the law. 

The counsel argued that when the proof of confession is excluded from the entire case, then there is no material evidence or witness to incriminate his client. When a single sentence of an entire confession is taken as evidence, it might prove hazardous to the entire evidentiary system. For example, when a person confesses that he drove a vehicle at 80 kmph, he did not blow the horn or apply brakes. While viewing individually, no statement turns out to be a confession, but when viewed as a whole, it amounts to a confession. So it is only logical to view confession as a whole and not in parts. Though Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act provides an exception to Sections 24, 25, and 26 of the Act, the entire portion of the confession should be viewed in whole, not in parts. So based on the above provisions and arguments, the petitioner, through his advocate, pleaded before the Honourable Supreme Court to allow his appeal and dismiss all charges against him (murder charge under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code), thereby acquitting him and setting him at liberty. 

Respondent

The respondent here was the State of Bihar and was represented by Mr. S.P. Varma and R.N. Sachthey. The respondent side mainly focused their argument on proving the admissible part of the confession, though it was made to a police officer. It is also worth noting that they were backed by the judgement of a trial court as well as the High Court of Patna. Both courts provided the death penalty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for the accused, accepting the fact that though a confession was made to a police officer, the evidence obtained out of the information received from the confession is admitted under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act. The respondents counsel was aware that the entire case was based on the confession provided by the accused. Every evidence collected was obtained thereafter. The judgement of Patna High Court in the case of Lachrymose Mundane v. State of Bihar (1963), was quoted to stress the argument of accepting a portion of the confession as evidence. The counsel argued that Section 27 of the act also provides legal leeway to accept provable evidence obtained from confession. Therefore, the respondents side pointed out that, according to Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the facts thereby discovered after the information received from the accused can be proved.

The contention against the respondents side was Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, which proposes a ban on confessions made to a police officer. The counsel highlighted that this ban was proposed with the view that a confession to a police officer is obtained out of fear, coercion, or threat. But in this case, the accused barged into the police station and confessed to the crime by himself without the involvement of the police. Though the provision proposes a complete ban, the confession should not be entirely rescinded, as it may contain some crucial information regarding the crime, as argued by the respondents counsel.

The respondent was also of the view that the evidence that was obtained by the search conducted after the information from the confession yielded an undeniable conclusion that the accused was responsible for the murder of all four. Pointing out in order, firstly, the bodies of all four were recovered in places as mentioned by the accused in his confession. One in the forest, one in the field, and two in the victims house. Secondly, the weapon used was recovered from the site, and all injuries caused to the victims were conclusively proven to have been caused by the weapon identified by the accused. Thirdly, the sheets used to cover the dead bodies were identified by the accused, and the blood stains on the recovered sheets matched the blood of the victims. Finally, the accused was seen going to the site of the murder by a prosecution witness in the early hours of the day of the murder. The respondent argued that no one other than the person who actually committed the crime can identify all these material evidence with this precision. 

So, considering the discovery of dead bodies, the matching of the murder weapon, the concurrence in timing, and the actual presence of the petitioner at the murder site, according to the statement of the prosecution witness, makes him guilty of the offence. The respondent pleaded to award the accused a capital penalty for the crime he committed under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

This case law can be understood in detail if we first look at the provisions involved in each aspect of the case. The prominence of each section can be understood if we delve deep into the intricacies of this case. The provisions and cases referred to in this case law have been listed as follows:

Provisions

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

This section deals with the punishment for murder. Any person committing murder is liable to be punished with the death penalty or life imprisonment along with fine. This is a cognizable offence, which means a police officer can make the arrest without a warrant. It is also a non-bailable offence and is triable by the Court of Sessions.

Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1972

This section deals with confessions caused by threats or promises. Any confession obtained out of threat or promise shall be deemed to be inadmissible in a criminal proceeding. It is the discretion of the court to decide whether the person in authority has caused any kind of inducement to make the accused confess. This would give the accused a chance to avert the dire punishment that he may receive if the proceedings continue.

Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 

This section deals with the confession to a police officer. A confession made to a police officer shall not be used as evidence to prove the offence committed by the accused. This section is an outcome of the probability that the confession so obtained might be the result of coercion, as described in the previous section.

Section 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 

This section deals with confession while in custody. A confession made by the accused while in custody can be proved only when it is made before a Magistrate. The Magistrate is considered as the embodiment of the court, so any confession made before him is considered as the confession made in court.

Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 

This section deals with the amount of information from confession that can be proved. When particular facts are discovered only after obtaining information from confession, those facts can be proved. This would always deal with specific information that can be acknowledged only by the person who committed the offence. This section acts as an exception to confessions inadmissibility.

Section 28 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 

This section deals with confession in the absence of force. When the Court believes that any incitement of threat or promise is removed before obtaining confession, then such confession is made relevant. This shows the supremacy of the court and the trust it embodies in the legal system. The court thoroughly engages all parties before concluding if there is any threat or promise.

Section 29 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 

This section deals with relevance based on the promise of secrecy. When a confession is made in secret based on the promise of secrecy, it does not become irrelevant if otherwise it was relevant. It is to be noted that the confession should have some prerequisites, like that the giver must be warned that the confession can be used against him, that he or she should be mentally conscious while making a confession, and that no deception should be practised.

Section 30 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 

This section deals with confessions affecting joint parties of the trial. When a confession made by a person is proved against him, the court may consider it applying to all the parties jointly accused of an offence, provided that all have been accused of the same offence and are all involved in the same trial.

Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 

This section of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) deals with the usage of statements to a police officer as evidence. Any statement given by the accused or any person during the investigation need not be signed. This includes any records that are created during the process of investigation or trail and recorded in any place, including the police diary. But when called for trial or as a witness under the authority of the court, the prosecution can record any statement.

Section 163 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 

This section deals with inducements. Making an offer, threat, or promise to obtain a statement is prohibited in accordance with Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. It also includes the condition that no officer shall prevent any person from making such a statement.

Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 

This section deals with the recording of confessions. Any statement or confession made by a person should be made before a Magistrate, whether or not within jurisdiction. It is also noted that any such confession should be recorded in audio-video format in the presence of the defence advocate. It is mandatory to explain to the person making such a confession that it might be used against him or her during the trial.

Case Laws

Faddi v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1860)

In this case, admissibility of evidence is being discussed with reference to Section 21 and Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. This was a murder trial, and the accused was held guilty by the lower court and the high court of Bombay. The guilty went for an appeal by special leave to the Honourable Supreme Court of India, claiming that the FIR report is inadmissible as evidence.

On thorough examination, the honourable judges gave a decision that admissions under Section 21 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, are relevant and can be proved in court of law. It does not carry any prohibition under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act or Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The Court rightly pointed out that the FIR report was not a confessional statement in this case; rather, it was merely a statement of admission, which contained questions that are to be determined by the court. The statement was also not given to the police officer to bar it under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The Honourable Supreme Court favoured the judgements of the lower court and the honourable High Court.

Deoman Upadhyaya v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1960) 

In this case, the admissibility of a statement made by a person in custody and a person not in custody is analysed with respect to the right to equality under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. This was a murder trial, where the accused offered a statement pointing to the location of the murder weapon, which led to the discovery. Based on the circumstantial evidence and the statement of the accused, he was declared as guilty with the death penalty by the session judge. On account of this judgement, the accused appealed to the Honourable High Court, where the judges saw a disparity in treatment between a person in custody and a person not in custody, which was contrary to the right to equality. Also, the court noted that Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, was a reason for this disparity and held it ultra vires to the Constitution of India. Apart from the statement, the remaining evidence was not sufficient to prove the guilt on the vision of the High Court.

This case, then on appeal by the prosecution, went to the Honourable Supreme Court of India. A constitutional bench of five judges, presided over the case and held that Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, is not ultra vires to the constitution. The right to equality is not a constant phenomenon; rather, it is circumstantial, and its practicality has to be determined by the legislature. The Court also noted that the person approaching the police officer to make a confession is considered to be under the custodial protection of the officer. The Honourable Supreme Court favoured the judgement of the Sessions Court and termed the accused guilty, thereby restoring his death sentence. Also, the validity of Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872, is reassured.

Hanumant v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1975) 

In this case, two appellants were convicted of forgery of a tender based on a complaint filed by the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Anti-Corruption Department, Nagpur. On inquiry of the case, the learned Special Magistrate convicted the accused under Section 120B and Section 465 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This carried a fine and rigorous imprisonment for six months. The accused appealed to the Sessions Court, where the charge under Section 120B was reversed and the charge under Section 465 was held valid. This was again appealed in the Honourable High Court without any change in the judgement. Then the case was brought to the Honourable Supreme Court of India.

Under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution, by means of special leave, this case was appealed to the Supreme Court. The major part of the evidence was the letter written by the accused concerning a tender exhibit (P24). The Supreme Court had the view that, when the letter is read as a whole, neither it poses any injury to the cause nor does it show any means of fraud. The Honourable Supreme Court held that the circumstantial evidence had to be thoroughly investigated and should match the intention to guilt before coming to a conclusion. Every other probability should be neglected before incriminating a person for an offence. Keeping all these in account, the Supreme Court set aside the judgements of all three courts and acquitted the accused.

Harman Kisha v. Emperor (1934) 

In this case, the accused was charged for killing his wife and refusing to have sexual intercourse with him. The accused beat her to death and then went on to give a confessional statement to the nearby police station in Dakore, Uttar Pradesh. The police registered his statement and filed an FIR. The primary witness in this case was the brother of the accused, who gave a statement to the Magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The accused was convicted for murder. But when the case went for an appeal in Sessions Court, the witness changed his statement, causing it to be non-admissible. Thereafter, the only evidence against the accused was the confessional statement. The session judge, in spite of changing statements from the witness, charged the accused with murder.

The case then came to the Bombay High Court, where the learned judge took cognizance that under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, no statement to a police officer can be proved. Also, the police failed to prove that even the murder weapon belonged to the accused and also failed to properly record the statement of the witness. Apart from the confessional statement, no other evidence ties the accused to the murder. Hence, the Honourable High Court held that the evidence is inadmissible and insufficient to hold the conviction.

Shiv Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1962) 

In this case, the accused was charged with the murder of his own son. There was a property dispute, which enraged the father, causing him to kill his own son. After killing his son with the blood tainted sword, he presented himself before the Assistant Superintendent of Police, Jodhpur City, and made a confessional statement regarding the murder. The case went to the Additional Sessions Judge, Jodhpur, where the accused changed his statement and inflicted the blame on his daughter-in-law and brother. Previously, the accuseds daughter-in-law was the major witness to the murder. The learned Sessions Judge did not believe the statement of the witness, disregarded the confession of the accused, and set him free of charges.

The case then went to the High Court of Rajasthan, where the honourable court quoted some important points. Firstly, the self-exculpatory statement of a person cannot be accepted as proof. Then the judge looked into the facts and found that the accused purchased the sword with a receipt, sharpened it, and it belonged to him. The accused reported to the police station with the same sword, with blood stains on it. On medical examination, the reason for death was injury due to a sword and the blood on the murder weapon matched with the accuseds son. There was a witness to the actual killing, and the accused rightly pointed out the dead body. So all these facts corroborated the confession, and hence the court held that in spite of the inadmissibility of confession under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, other evidence proved beyond doubt that the accused committed the murder and imprisoned him for life.

Mian Noor Alias Bijji Khan v. Emperor (1919) 

In this case, the present accused, Bijji Khan, was charged under Section 355 of the Indian Penal Code with throwing a stone on the carriage of the municipal commissioner. But initially, Jakka Khan was prosecuted for the same offence. During the trial, the latter made a statement to the Magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC incriminating the present accused. The Magistrate accepted this statement and incriminated Bijji Khan.

The case went to the Allahabad High Court on appeal. The judge was astonished by the fact that a statement from the accused incriminated a new person for the same crime.  The judge also noted that the first accused was talking to Bijji Khan before trial and, in any way, might have influenced him. The Court rejected the statement of Jakka Khan and expressed that the evidence was insufficient to prove his guilt. Therefore, the sentence was set aside, and the appellant was released.

Palvinder Kaur v. State of Punjab (1952) 

In this case, the accused was tried for killing her husband by means of poisoning. The charges were framed, and she was convicted under Section 302 and Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for murder and trying to conceal the information by  the Sessions Court. She was sentenced to transportation for life. In an appeal to the High Court, the murder charges were acquitted due to the fact that the poisoning could have been done by anyone else and there was no proper eyewitness of evidence to concretely prove her involvement. But she was convicted under Section 201 of the IPC for seven years of rigorous imprisonment. 

In an appeal to the Supreme Court of India, the honourable judges analysed the facts of the case and the evidence presented. There was a self-exculpatory confession made by the accused. Since it was exculpatory, it was neglected, but the incriminating facts in the confession were used against her. The court was of the opinion that if the statement is inadmissible, then the entire portion is inadmissible. Therefore, she was acquitted of all charges and set free.

Kathi Kalgu Oghad and others v. State of Bombay (1961)

In this case, the accused was charged under Section 302, read along with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. During custody, the investigating officer acquires a specimen copy of the handwriting of the accused to match with the handwritten note found at the murder site. In the trial court, the accused were given life imprisonment and rigorous imprisonment for 2 years. In an appeal to the High Court, there was a question regarding the authenticity of the specimen and whether obtaining a specimen that can incriminate himself is contrary to Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution. On account of this, the High Court acquitted the accused. The case then went to revision and appeal multiple times.

To solve this important question of law, the case came before the biggest constitutional bench of 11 judges in the Honourable Supreme Court to decide on the issue. The key considerations before the Supreme Court were 

  • Whether, through the production of specimens as evidence, the accused was made a witness against himself under Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution?
  • Whether the fact that the accused was in police custody while giving that handwriting specimen means that he might be under threat or influence from the officer?

The Supreme Court held that the mere fact that the accused was in police custody does not mean that he was compelled to do so. Also, a specimen of handwriting obtained from the accused cannot be considered a witness against himself because it is a tool of investigation and can be obtained from any doubtful person. However, the Honourable Court didn’t answer the question of whether the prohibition under Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution would operate before or after the custody of the person.

Bharat v. State of U.P. (1971) 

In this case, the murder of 3 people took place on 10th of december, 1967. The bodies were found by the relative and reported to the police station. Police, on investigation, suspected the younger son of the victim and arrested him. On further investigation, the clothes of the accused were medically examined, and blood stains were found. An eyewitness confirmed the presence of the accused at the murder location during the time of the murder. The investigating officer filed an FIR and proceeded with the trial. The accused was presented before a Magistrate in Sessions Court and asked if he wanted to make a confession. The repercussions of making a confession are explained to him. The accused voluntarily accepted the commission of a blunder crime and quoted property disputes and hate as the reasons for murder. The magistrate took cognizance of it and sentenced him to life imprisonment under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, even though the accused retraced his confession in the later part of the trial. In an appeal to the high court, the court also accepted the judgement of the Sessions Court.

Then, by means of special leave, an appeal was made to the Honourable Supreme Court of India. The learned judges analysed all the evidence and facts and came to the conclusion that a confession can be accepted as evidence only to the satisfaction of the court, based on the supporting evidence. Though the accused retracted his confession, other corroborating facts prove beyond doubt that the accused committed the murder. The court dismissed the appeal and reassured the sentence.

Pyarelal Bhargava v. State of Rajasthan (1963)

In this case, the accused was a Superintendent in the Chief Engineers office. He took a file from the office, showed it to a beneficiary, and returned it to the office. On cognizance of this offence, a case of theft and forgery was filed against him under Section 379 and Section 465 of the Indian Penal Code. The Sub-Divisional Magistrate accepted the charges and the confession of the accused and charged him with conviction. On an appeal to the Sessions Court, the judge cleared charges under Section 465 but convicted based on Section 379. On an appeal to the High Court, the court accepted the judgement of the Sessions Court, concerning Pyarelal.

This case, then on special leave, came to the Honourable Supreme Court of India. Three important questions were raised before the court. They were

  • Confession made was not voluntary in nature so it is inadmissible under Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act.
  • Confession was retracted, so without proper material evidence, it should not be relied upon.
  • Meaning of theft under Section 378 of IPC.

The court held that the confession made by the accused was not made under any threat or coercion, as accepted by the judgements of the lower court. On the second question, the fact that the confession was retracted, does not disqualify it from being evidence. On the satisfaction of the court and the availability of proper material facts, even a retraced confession can be used as evidence. Answering the third question, even a temporary disappearance of a document committed by an official is considered theft. The short duration of being missing does not disqualify it from being termed as theft.

  • On the bench of Honourable Jurists K.Subba Rao, Raghubar Dayal, and R.S. Bachawat, Honourable Justice R.S Bachawat pronounced the judgement.
  • The entire portion of the confession given to the police officer by the accused is inadmissible under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act. The confessional statement not only includes admission of offence but also all the allied facts. But as banned by the Evidence Act, no part of such a confession can be treated as evidence. The reason for such a ban is that a confession may be obtained by force, offer, or threat. Usually, a confession made before a Magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC is only considered valid.
  • While considering a confession to a police officer as inadmissible, the entire portion is inadmissible. If we consider a particular portion of the confession to be tainted, then the validity of the entire confession comes under question. One cannot consider one portion of the statement admissible and the other portion to be inadmissible.
  • The exception under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act applies only to statements obtained from a person in custody of the police officer. The arrest in this case was made only after obtaining the confession, so it cannot be considered as constructive custody as envisaged by the provision.
  • Thus, the appeal is allowed, and the sentences passed by all the lower courts were set aside, making the appellant free of charges.

Rationale behind this judgement

The bench took cognizance of the fact that the accused was charged under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which carries a maximum punishment of the death penalty. Both the Sessions Court and the High Court were of the same opinion and gave the accused the death penalty. The prosecutions case was entirely based upon the FIR, which was the result of a confessional statement provided by the accused. The FIR contained every detail, including the place, date, time, motive, and method of murder. There were, in total, four members of the family who were claimed to have been murdered by the petitioner. This confessional statement was given by the appellant to the Sub Inspector of Police of Palkot station. 

After the FIR was lodged, the appellant, along with the Sub Inspector recovered the weapon used for the murder and the dead bodies, as pointed out in the confession. Once the dead bodies were recovered, a medical examination was conducted, which proved that the recovered murder weapon caused the deaths of all four members. Also, blood stains on the murder weapon matched with the members who were killed. To prove the circumstantial part of the evidence, a prosecution witness was provided, which proved the fact that the appellant went to the forest in the early morning and was seen coming back.

But it was also noted that there is no direct eye witness to the actual occurrence of murder, and the entire case hangs on the string of confessional statement provided by the petitioner. Apart from that, there is no conclusive proof to tie the charges to the accused. Now, there came the question of whether a part of the confession can be used to prove certain facts and a certain portion can be omitted. As defined by the Indian Evidence Act, confession is an admission, so unless its nature of admissibility is prohibited by law, it is considered as evidence. Section 25-27 deals with the admissibility of evidence under the Indian Evidence Act. Also, according to the referred precedent, Faddi v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1964), a statement can be proved only if it is not a confession.

The Court is of the opinion that a confession is considered as a whole entity; it can’t be staggered into multiple parts. Either the entire statement can be accepted or it can be neglected as a whole. A confessional statement not only has the admission of a crime but also other circumstantial facts in it, like motive, weapon, and so on. It would go wrong if one part of the confession containing the circumstantial evidence alone is used for the investigation, eventually proving the crime, but neglecting the self-inculpatory part of the statement. It would be an illogical decision. If a confessional statement is considered to be tainted, then the entirety of the statement is tainted; a statement containing the incriminating facts alone cannot be separated from a tainted confession. This is reinstated in the cases of Hanumant v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1952) and Palvinder Kaur v. State of Punjab (1952), noting that it is not permitted to separate one part from the confession to make it evidence.

The final question answered by the Honourable Court was whether an exception under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act can be used to accept a confession. The provision speaks about a confession from a person in custody, from which some discovery is made to prove the guilt without any doubt. The court decided that any person can be considered to be under the custody of the police officer only after filing an FIR and making an arrest. Until then, that cannot be considered as a constructive custody. Whether determining the admissibility of a confession based on its custodial nature is violative of the right to equality is answered by the judgement of the case State of Uttar Pradesh v. Deoman Upadhyaya (1960). In this case, since the confession was made to the police office before filing an FIR, it cannot be considered as an admissible evidence.

The only evidence to connect the appellant to the murder was his confessional statement. Any discoveries made, including the murder weapon, the dead bodies, and the sheets used to cover the bodies, were all based on the information obtained from confession. So considering all these rationales, the appellant was relieved of all charges and was set free. 

This case proved to be a landmark case, considering the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. This is due to the fact that this case tries to envisage the broader concept of confession and interpret all the provisions aligned with confession. The case clearly outlines that there is no absolute bar on the accused to make the confession before a police officer or a police officer receiving the confession from the so-called accused; rather, it merely makes the confession so obtained that it cannot be proved in court either by the investigating officer or the public prosecutor. Many judgments looked at the confession from a broad perspective after this case. For example, in the case of Veera Ibrahim v. State of Maharashtra (1976), the jurists held that confession is not only the acceptance of guilt of an offence but also any substantial fact related to the offence. This includes motive, opportunity, intention, murder weapon, subsequent conduct, etc. 

One more important inference from this case law is that when a suspected person is being interrogated by a police officer relating to a crime, when a suspected person is being arrested by a police officer, or when a person voluntarily comes to the police station, without any formal accusation, if he or she gives a confession to the police officer, such confession is made inadmissible by Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act. The person making such a confession is not an accused at the point of making the confession. The partial relaxation provided by Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act applies only to facts discovered after receiving the confession, but the court was of the view that the entire part of the confession is treated as one and the same. So, if a confession is inadmissible, then the entire portion is inadmissible. Section 25 doesnt show any limitation on whether the person making a confession is accused or not, and it doesn’t provide weightage to whether an investigation was started or not. It also doesnt matter to the court whether the confession was obtained by threat or force, any confession made to a police officer is hit by Section 25, irrespective of its nature and timeline. The confession part of the confessional FIR, though struck by Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, is made relevant under Section 8 of the Indian Evidence Act, as the section deals with the subsequent conduct of the person after committing the crime, and any fact involving the subsequent conduct is considered relevant. But it cannot be proved against the person who made it  in a court of law without providing proper corroboratory discoveries.

This case is one of the landmark cases in analysing the importance and relevance of confession in a judicial trial. A confession arises out of guilt over a crime. This might occur as soon as the crime is committed or sometime later. The confession may be self-motivated or motivated by some other person. Before analysing the characteristics of confession, it is paramount to understand the concept of confession. A confession, as defined earlier, is a self-exculpatory or inculpatory statement given by the accused. Unlike other statements, which can be given by any person during any stage of the investigation or trial, a confession can be given by the accused to the officer involved or to the judicial magistrate. Confession is classified as a type of admission. 

From a psychological point of view, confession denotes the possession of conscience, though it comes after the occurrence of a crime. From a legal standpoint, confessing to a crime can possibly reduce the penal repercussions. It is not a guarantee, but a possibility. The Indian legal system has various auxiliary clauses with regard to confession. It is a wide arena with a vague interpretation. The admissibility of such confessions varies from one case to another. In the Indian Evidence Act, admissions are defined and elaborated under Sections 17-31. According to Indian law, the only acceptable mode of confession is the confession made before the judicial magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. But no confession can be taken as conclusive proof, rather, it is used only as an estoppel.

The mode of confession that is completely prohibited is confession to a police officer under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Also, when a confession is given to the investigating officer, Section 27 of the Act makes guidelines on how much information can be proved and also from whom such information can be received. The reason why confession to police officers is not allowed is that there is an opportunity of threat or offer made to the accused to confess to a crime. It is highlighted in Section 163 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act. It is also explicitly mentioned that, in no case, a signature is attested on a self-made confession under Section 162 of the CrPC. Even after obtaining a confession, the investigating officer has to go leaps and bounds to collect corroborating facts that follow up as evidence to frame the charges without using the information from the confession.

In this case, a person named Aghnoo Nageshia, due to a property dispute and a consecutive intermittent quarrel with her aunt Ratni, kills her and three others (daughter, son-in-law, and grandson). Following the murder, he hides their bodies at the respective murder sites. These murders were due to the emotional outrage and effects of the loss of property. After committing such heinous murders, the accused, Mr. Aghnoo, shared the crime he committed against his brother. Then, by evening, the accused reaches the nearby police station and confesses about the murder to the sub-inspector of Police. On receiving such information, the police officer recorded the statement and asked the accused to affix his thumb print. Consequently, along with the accused, the sub-inspector went to the murder site and found the bodies lying lynched. All the bodies were recovered along with the murder weapon based on the information obtained from the confession. The confession became an indispensable tool to obtain all recoveries related to the crime.

The police filed an FIR, conducted a preliminary enquiry based on that information, and found the blood-stained sheets used to cover the dead bodies. Furthermore, by means of a medical examination, police linked the blood type of the victim to the blood on the murder weapon. The police obtained a statement from a witness who saw the accused leaving for the forest, where the murder occurred and where the dead body of the son-in-law of Ratni was found. The eye witness was added as a prosecution witness. After linking and corroborating all facts discovered to the confession statement, the police took up the trial. The accused was given a death sentence by both the Sessions Court and the Honourable High Court of Patna. At this hour, as a last resort, the accused, with the assistance of his pleader, K.K. Jain, went to the Honourable Supreme Court.

The Court came to the conclusion that no confession to a police officer is admissible as evidence, and no part of it can be used to prove other relevant facts. The court acquitted the accused of all charges and cleared off his death penalty. 

Any judgement is arrived at after introspecting all legal possibilities as well as laying consideration on the moral perspectives as well. This is to ensure that all normatives are met with precision and also to ensure that there is a broader humanitive aspect underlying them. The legal and moral perspectives of the judgement in this case are discussed below.

Legal background

The Constitution of India guarantees every citizen of India that no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself under Article 20(3). This right is guaranteed to every citizen, keeping in mind that he should not be strangled with pressure to accept a crime that he or she is not a part of. This view is also supported by various precedents from the Supreme Court. In the case of Kathi Kalgu Oghad v. State of Bombay, (1961), the court held that no violation of Article 20(3) is allowed by means of signature, thumb impression, or any form of authentication. Also, in the case of Nandini Satpathy v. Dani, (1978), the constitutional validity of Article 20(3) is held. These case laws ensure that confession to a crime should not be obtained forcefully, and that is why confession to police officers is prohibited under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Section 164 of the CrPC mandates that confessions are to be given in the presence of the Judicial Magistrate either within or out of his or her jurisdiction. This is a directive to ensure that the confession is not a tainted version. It is the obligation of the magistrate to ensure that the person making such a confession is informed beforehand that he or she can be prosecuted based on the information in the confession. While in the course of making such a confession, if the person denies making it, then he shall be immediately released from custody. This prevents the police from acting in a rude manner, for denying a confession. Sub clauses 6 of this section also commands that the magistrate recording such a confession should forward the confession obtained to the respective magistrate observing the case concerned. After the amendment made in 2009, it is also mandatory to video record the confession to ensure its veracity. The makers of the law are of the opinion that there is always a possibility of coercion to confession when police officers are involved, that is why both Section 163 of the CrPC and Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act prohibits such confession. Interestingly, Section 28 of the Indian Evidence Act allows the court to accept the confession if it is sure that the confession obtained is not influenced. 

In the case of State (N.C.T. of Delhi) v. Navjot Sidhu (2005), the court recorded that Section 164 of CrPc and Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act are major statutory tools to prevent unnatural confession. This is to avoid any threat, offer, influence, or panic that may be caused by the investigating officer to the person accused and obtain his or her confession.

In the case of Bharat v. State of U.P, (1972), the court held that a confession is admissible only when the court thinks the confession is genuine and can be used to prove the crime. This reiterates the concept of Section 28 of the Indian Evidence Act. All this fiasco occurs on account of the lack of a proper definition of the word confession in legal statutes. Also, it is noted that when a confession to a police officer is considered to be tainted, then it is considered as a whole. There are no bits and parcels of grey areas in such a confessional statement.

Moral background

Every judgement comes with a moral interpretation and will always add to the previous opinion of a statute. Confession is a more psychological concept than a legal one. A person who has committed a crime voluntarily comes forward to accept his wrong-doings. Though this revelation comes late, there is a possibility of retribution for such offenders. But when the crime committed is heinous, there is no second thought that the punishment should be deterrent and not reformative, even though a confession is made. However, the problem here is not a mere confession, but a confession made to a police officer.

Let us, for a moment, think about what would happen if a confession to a police officer was allowed to be presented as evidence. There is a possibility that an innocent person might be incriminated by his own words. There are numerous instances where police, through the use of force, incriminate people, usually those who are more influenced by criminal backgrounds or who are politically weak. When this ban on confessional statements is lifted, it paves for the grave danger of innocent people being locked up in prison, or, in the worst case, they might be hanged for the crime they have never committed.

Justice should always focus on protecting the innocent rather than punishing the offender. This principle is cardinal to almost all jurisprudence concepts. When a non-offender is incriminated for a crime, then he or she is not only being punished but also deprived of the opportunities that he or she may acquire if he or she is not sentenced. This is similar to a double jeopardy, or Nemo Debet bis Vexari. The legal system can find no means to retaliate for such a wrong punishment. Hence, the jurists pay keen attention to the evidential value of any fact. No fact or document is accepted at a single glance. When such importance is given to every evidence, accepting a possibly tainted confession is highly impossible. Allowing a confession with a high chance of coercion is likely not to happen, and that is why a check is provided for confessions to police officers. 

There also comes a question that, what if the real offender uses the loophole in the legal system to escape from damnation? In the case that is being discussed in this article, there is a high probability that the murders were committed by one Mr. Aghnoo Nagesia, yet the Honourable Supreme Court acquitted him just because the primary evidence was the confession given by him to a police officer. This might sound like an injustice. But while viewing it from a broader perspective, there are two possibilities . Firstly, the legal system has the laws inscribed not in a singular view. The laws that are present now have gone through multiple amendments, and the reason they are still prevalent is that they ensure justice, even in trivial ways. The reason for the ban on such confessions being used as evidence is to prevent any unnatural threat to  innocent people. The Court is also of the view that police officers, to speed up the process of investigation, at times resort to inducement of a threat or offer to the so-called accused. That is why there is an explicit ban.

Secondly, in this case, what if the murders were committed by the brother of the accused and the elder brother accepted the crime to prevent his brother from being imprisoned? This is a long possibility. That is why any crime is investigated in depth and extensive arguments are received before arriving at a conclusion and delivering a judgement. This case might be a false positive in the confusion matrix, but to prevent many false negatives, one or two false positives have to be accepted.

This is an extensive case in which the legality of confession is being discussed meticulously. The intricate details of the case, including the provisions, precedents, arguments, and judgement are intensively studied. The inference from this case analysis is that a confession, however effective it may be, can only be proved if it is given before a judicial magistrate and any confession made to a police officer in any instance is inadmissible. Though there can be a mechanism in the Indian legal system by which confessions are judicially viewed based on their merits to determine their admissibility.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a confession?

A confession is a type of admission which  is a self-exculpatory or inculpatory statement made by any person who has committed a crime. This confession is accepted only when it is made to a judicial magistrate. There is no definition for confession in the Indian Evidence Act or in the Criminal Procedure Code. There are various types of confession, including formal confession, informal confession, retracted confession, judicial confession, and extra judicial confession.

What is an admission?

Admission is an acceptance of a particular fact which can be used as evidence to prove a crime. Admission may be made by a person involved in a crime or not. Admission can be made in both civil and criminal cases. Sections 17-31 of the Indian Evidence Act deals with the topic of admission, its acceptance, and the prohibitions proposed. There are two types of admission: oral admission and written admission. Though admission is treated as evidence, it is not taken as conclusive proof.

What is the difference between a confession and an admission?

Admission is a statement made by any person during the trial, whereas confession is a statement made by the accused to incriminate himself. Admission is usually civil in nature, but confession is criminal in nature. All admissions are used as evidence, but only certain types of confessions are treated as evidence. Confession is a type of admission, rather, admission is adherence to a material fact.

What is an extra-judicial confession?

An extra-judicial confession is a confession that is not given to a magistrate but to some other person outside the court, related to the crime. This may be given to relatives, neighbours or friends who can be added as witness to the case. But it is important that those statements from witnesses be proved without any reason for doubt. Extra-judicial confession is not defined under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

What are the elements of a valid confession?

  • A confession should be voluntary in nature.
  • It should not be obtained by means of force, threat, offer, or coercion.
  • It should be inculpatory in nature and not exculpatory.
  • It should match the circumstantial and local evidence.
  • It should only be made before a judicial magistrate and should be properly recorded and sent to the concerned magistrate.
  • A confession to a police officer is considered inadmissible.
  • A confession should receive the satisfaction of the court that it is not tainted.

What is the evidentiary value of a confession?

A confession is considered as evidence only when it is made voluntary in nature and is acceptable by the court of law. The question of whether to accept a confession is at the discretion of the court. The court checks if the confession has no taint or misappropriation in it. Whether it is made before a judicial magistrate or not. Whether it contains supporting relevant facts or not. Though confession is accepted as evidence, it would not become conclusive evidence to penalise a person.

What is a retracted or retraced confession?

It is a type of confession which was given by the accused after the commission of the crime to the investigating officer or the judicial magistrate but later, during the trial, withdraws it. Even though the confession is withdrawn, the evidentiary value of the confession is not lost. Based on the case of Pyarelal Bhargava v. State of Rajasthan (1962), a retraced confession can be accepted as evidence if the court feels satisfied with the genuineness of the confession.

What is a confessional FIR?

It is a type of FIR which is filed on the basis of the confession provided by a person who committed a crime and voluntarily appears before the police officer to accept his guilt. Usually, a confessional FIR does not have much evidential value unless it is backed by proper evidence and witnesses. It is also to be noted that, since the person confesses as soon as the commission of a crime occurs, he is possibly not under the custody of the police officer. The investigating officer should be vigilant to record such a confession with a proper eye witness or before a magistrate to increase its evidential value. A confessional FIR usually consists of three parts: admission, confession and discovery. Here, both the admission and discovery parts can be proved against the accused.

Can the confession of an accused be used against a co-accused?

Yes, a confession by one accused can be used against another accused. Under Section 30 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, an admissible confession made by one accused can be used against another co-accused. It is to be noted that there are a few essential factors, the accused are jointly tried, they should be tried for the same offence, and the confession should affect all accused involved. In the case of Pratap reddy v. State (2019), the Madras High Court held that to accept the confession of a co-accused, it should not be extra judicial and the facts should be proved without doubt.

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