Confessional Statement in Nigeria

Confessional Statement in Nigeria

What is a confessional statement?

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 the crime. See S. 28 of the Evidence Act 2011 as amended. Where such confession is voluntary and relevant, it is admissible against the person who made it.

Nature of a statement that will constitute confessional statement

A confessional statement must be clear, precise and unequivocal admission of guilt. A confessional statement should be direct and positive, and should relate to the accused person’s knowledge or intention, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed the crime charged.-ADENIYI v. STATE (2021) LPELR-56208(CA)

A statement wrongly admitted as a confessional statement can, if it has no other defects, be admitted as an ordinary statement and be relied upon as such, as a basis for conviction.

In the case of Ajibade Vs State (2012) LPELR – 15531 (SC), the Supreme Court held: “Where a confessional statement is admitted without any objection, the irresistible inference is that same was voluntary and a Court can rightly convict on the basis of the admission contained therein.

It is pertinent to note that what constitute a confessional statement is always a matter of fact, and not a matter of law. A confessional statement must therefore be clear, precise and unequivocal. In considering a confessional statement, a trial Judge must examine the totality of the statement.

In effect, a confessional statement should be direct and positive and should relate to the accused own act, knowledge and intention, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed the crime charged.-ITA v. STATE (2021) LPELR-55843(CA).

Where a so-called confessional statement is capable of two interpretations in the realm of guilt and non-guilt, or wayward, a trial Judge will not convict the accused but give him the benefit of doubt.

How to obtain confessional statements from suspects

Confessional Statements are most times beaten out of suspects, and the Courts usually admit such statements as counsel and the accused are unable to prove that the statement was not made voluntarily. A fair trial presupposes that police investigation of the crime for which the accused person stands trial was transparent. In that regard it is time for safeguards to be put in place to guarantee transparency.

It is seriously recommended that confessional statements should only be taken from suspect if, and only if his counsel is present, or in the presence of a legal practitioner. Where this is not done such a confessional statement should be rejected by the Court.-OWHORUKE v. COP (2015) LPELR-24820(SC).

On what should happen where an accused person gave an extra-judicial confessional statement, recorded by a police officer or third party and translated. This Court in Olalekan v. State (2001) 18 NWLR (Pt. 746) 793 at 818, held that the statement is inadmissible unless the person who interpreted it is called as a witness as well as the person who wrote it down.

When a confessional statement is proved to have been made voluntarily

A confessional statement is proved to have been made voluntarily when at the stage of tendering the confessional statement, there is no objection from the accused person or his counsel as to the voluntariness of the statement.-STEPHEN v. STATE (2013) LPELR-20178(SC)

Whether an accused person can both challenge his confessional statement on the ground that he did not make the statement and on the ground that it was not voluntarily made

It is settled law that during trial, an accused defendant who desires to impeach his statement is duty bound to establish that his earlier confessional statement cannot be true by showing any of the following:

(i) that he did not in fact make any such statement as presented; or

(ii) that he was not correctly recorded; or

(iii) that he was unsettled in mind at the time he made the statement; or

(iv) that he was induced to make the statement – Hassan Vs State (2001) 15 NWLR (Pt 735) 184.

In other words, the accused defendant must show either

(i) that he did not make the statement at all; that it was make-believe or

(ii) that he made the statement, but that the making of the statement was involuntary.

Where the accused defendant contends that he did not make the statement, a trial Court will admit the statement and postpone the determination of its probative value to the stage of evaluation of evidence. Where the accused defendant contends involuntariness in the making of the statement, the trial Court will conduct a trial within trial at that stage to determine the issue of voluntariness, before admitting the statement if it finds it was made voluntarily – Onyenye Vs State (2012) LPELR 7866(SC).

Thus, an accused defendant cannot rely on both situations in impeaching his extra judicial statement to the Police because they are mutually exclusive. Where an accused person puts forward both situations, his case will be inconsistent and contradictory. The law is settled that where a party puts forward a case consisting of two inconsistent and contradictory versions of evidence and he does not explain the inconsistency or contradiction, his case must be rejected by the Court – Popoola Vs State (2018) 10 NWLR (Pt 1628) 485.

Conditions for admissibility of a confessional statement; approach of court to retraction of confessional statement

It is trite law that a confessional statement by an accused person which is direct, cogent and unequivocal where believed by the trial Court is enough to ground a conviction. See FRN vs. Emeka (2013) 3 NWLR

This position of the law is however qualified in the sense that where as in the instant case, the accused person retracts his statement, as not having been made by him, or where he denies the contents thereof, the Court must carefully consider the evidential value to place on such a statement. See Nwocha vs The State (2012) 9 NWLR at P. 571.

In determining the weight/value to be attached to a retracted statement, the Court dutifully examines the statement, testing the veracity and the truthfulness of the said statement in the light of other credible available pieces of evidence, and looking into what is now acceptably termed as the six way test enunciated in a number cases including Akpan vs The State (2000) 12 NWLR (pt 682) 607.

In OYINYE V. STATE (2012) 14 NWLR (PT. 1324) PAGE 594 has laid to rest the questions where a trial Court faced with a retracted confessional statement should ask. They are:

(a) Whether there is anything outside the confession to show that it is true.

(b) Whether it is corroborated.

(c) Whether the statements made in it are true as far as they can be tested.

(d) Whether the accused had opportunity of committing the crime.

(e) Whether the confession is possible.

(f) Whether it is consistent with other facts which has been ascertained and have been proved. See also TANKO V. STATE 2008 3 WRN 117.

Whether a defendant is duty bound to explain to the Court the reason for retracting from his confessional statement

If the accused person resiles from his confessional statement it is his function to explain to the court as part of his defence the reason for the inconsistency. In such circumstances, if he is to be believed, the accused has to lead evidence to establish that his confessional statement could not be correct. It may be that he was not correctly recorded or that in fact he did not make the statement or that he was unsettled in mind at the time the statement was made or that he was induced to do so.

The explanation should come from him without promptings from the prosecution. It is in rare cases that a court would attach credence to the evidence of an accused person as against his extra-judicial statement where he fails to show that the extra-judicial statement could not be correct.

Whether a court can convict on a retracted confessional statement

In CHIOKWE VS STATE (2013) 8 NCC 185, this Court per Ariwoola, JSC stated that: “It has also been established that the retraction of the confessional statement by an accused person in his oral testimony in Court during trial is of no moment. The most important thing is that the Court must be satisfied as to the truth of the confession, and can therefore rely on it alone to ground conviction. However, it is also settled that it is desirable that the Court should, outside the confessional statement look for some corroborative evidence, no matter how slight.

How an accused can retract a confessional statement

A valid mode of retraction of confessional statement is where the accused person, though admits to making a confessional statement but goes on to explain to the Court that the confessional statement being tendered was not the one made by him.-STATE v. JIMOH (2022) LPELR-56868(SC).

Effect of a confessional statement admitted following a trial within trial proceeding

If a confessional statement is contested at the trial, our procedural law requires that the trial Judge should conduct a trial within a trial for purposes of determining the admissibility or otherwise of the statement.

Once a confessional statement is admitted, the prosecution need not prove the case against the accused person beyond reasonable doubt, as the confessional statement ends the need to prove the guilt of the accused.-SOLOLA & ANOR v. STATE (2005) LPELR-3101(SC).

Effect of failure of an accused person to object to the admission of his confessional statement

The appropriate time to object to the admissibility of a statement said to be a confession is when the statement is sought to be tendered – see Oseni v State (2012) LPELR-7833(SC).

If an accused person does not object when his confessional statement is being tendered, the only reasonable conclusion is that it was made voluntarily. See BELLO SHURUMO VS. THE STATE (2010) 19 NWLR (PT. 1226) 73 wherein it was held that the failure to object the two confessional statements when they were tendered and admitted as exhibits was held as conclusive evidence that they were both made voluntarily. This is more so when a counsel stands by and allows exhibits to sail smoothly through without any objection.

Confessional statement and Issue of insanity

There is no doubt that in appropriate cases an accused person can be found guilty and convicted on his confessional statement; but where as in this case, the defence of insanity is raised, it is better to deal with the issue of insanity first before considering the confessional statements made by an accused person whose defence is based mainly on insanity. If the defence of insanity succeeds, it will definitely affect the confessional statement made by a person who is insane. No weight should be attached to such a statement.

Effect of inadmissible or expunged confessional statement on a conviction

Where a conviction of an accused person is not based solely on an inadmissible or expunged confessional statement, but also on independent pieces of evidence which, in effect, corroborate the expunged confessional statement(s) as in the instant case, the conviction and sentence can be, and is in effect, sustained by the independent evidence on record. It is only where the conviction is based solely on the expunged confessional statement that the conviction and sentence is vitiated as there will be no evidence to support the charge.-BABARINDE & ORS v. STATE (2013) LPELR-21896(SC)

Effect where the Court is satisfied that a confession is voluntary

The effect of a confessional statement which was voluntarily made. The law is settled that a Court can convict solely on a confessional statement if proved or supported by evidence outside of the confessional statement. It was established earlier that there was no objection to the admissibility of the confessional statement and the trial judge found evidence to support the confessional statement before relying on it to convict the Appellant. It is settled that once a confessional statement is admitted without objection, it is good evidence.

Whether the confessional statement of a co-defendant can serve as a corroboration of the confessional/ extra-judicial statement of another co-defendant

Confessional statements are only admissible in Court against the maker (i.e. the accused person), if it is a voluntary acknowledgement of guilt. There must be a clear admission of guilt.

The confessional statement of one co-accused cannot be corroboration for the confessional statement of the other co-accused. This is because the confessional statement of one accused cannot without more bind another accused where the other accused has not adopted the confessional statement in question as his. See the case of SOLOLA V. STATE (2005) 2 NWLR (Pt. 937) 460 wherein the Supreme Court in the leading judgment delivered by Edozie, JSC; held amongst others to the effect that a voluntary confession or statement of an accused is deemed to be relevant and admissible against its maker and not against another.

 

Read also: Jurisdiction of Courts and Cases in Nigeria

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