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HOW COURTS TREAT CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT BY AN ACCUSED TO THE POLICE – BY KINGSLEY UGHE

The significance of statements made by accused persons at the Police station is that it helps investigation of the case. It can also point to likely defence, like Alibi.

A statement made to the Police by a suspect containing an admission in the course of investigations is admissible in his trial even where he retracts from such statement.

However, the statement must not only be made under caution, but there must be a verbatim recording of the statement in the language used by the accused. Also, the statement to the police must be recorded in a first person singular or plural number as the case may be.

The statement must be produced and tendered during the presentation of the case for the prosecution or at the trial of the accused, since it is the foundation of the latter’s defence. However, the contents of such a statement will constitute evidence in support.

A confessional Statement is an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed that crime. It must be made before trial. If it is made during the trial, it is no longer a confessional statement but a plea of guilty or guilty plea.

Where a confessional statement is made in vernacular to a police officer, an interpreter ought to be called and the interpreter’s translation and the version in vernacular ought to be tendered together in court.

Where a confessional statement sought to be tendered is objected to on the ground that it was not made voluntarily, the court will order a trial within trial to determine the voluntary nature of the statement.

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The procedure for trial within trial is to have the prosecutor start first by adducing evidence proving that the confession was voluntary: Nwachukwu v State. Thereafter, the defence will lead evidence in rebuttal.

A confessional statement made by an accused person is admissible against him alone. Confessional statements of an accused person only bind him and does not bind a co-accused even where it was made in the presence of the co-accused unless the co-accused admits the confessional statement either expressly or by conduct: R v Bodman.

By retraction of a confessional statement, an accused is saying that he did not make a confessional statement at all and the right time to do this is at the time the statement is sought to be tendered. The position regarding the time of objection is the same if the objection is on the grounds of involuntariness.

Mere denial or retraction of a confessional statement will not affect the admissibility of the confessional statement as long as it is voluntary. It does not require a trial within trial. The retraction o denial of a confessional statement goes only to the weight that the court will attach to the affected confession on evaluation of evidence: Salawu v State & Nwaebonyi v State.

Again, the point is emphasized that a confession must admit all material ingredients of the offence. An admissible confession must be one made by the accused person against whom it is to be used himself voluntarily, not one made by counsel or co-accused.

A confession may be made orally or in writing and both may be admissible. It is a personal exercise. For a confession to be admissible, it must admit or acknowledge that the maker of the statement committed the offence alleged against him (both mens rea and actus reus) and it must be direct, positive, precise and unequivocal as to the guilt of the accused/suspect.

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Where an accused person denies/retracts/resiles from a confessional statement at his trial, the statement is admissible all the same if it is relevant but the trial court cannot convict the accused person based on such denied confessional statement in the absence of some other piece of evidence outside of the confessional statement which will make the admission contained confession likely true and probable: Nwaebonyi. v. State.

Please note that a retracted confessional statement is admissible and that where there is a retraction of a confessional statement, there must be corroborative evidence before a conviction can be founded on the retraction. But where the accused admits making the confessional statement but challenges its voluntariness – trial within trial will be ordered. Trial within trial is a name given to a procedure whereby the court determines the voluntariness of a confessional statement.

The implication of a trial within trial is that the proceedings is halted/stopped/paused until the voluntariness of the confession is determined.

A voluntary confession is one relevant and is not vitiated by any of the elements stated in section 29(2) of the Evidence Act 2011, that is to say:

(a) oppression of the maker; or

(b) existence of anything said or done by an integrator which influences the maker of a confessional statement from making statement out of his free-will.

Please note that the burden of proving the voluntariness of the confessional statement still lies with the prosecution and it is the prosecution who must lead evidence first in a trial within trial.

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