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Modes of Third Degree Used by Police: Remedies and Problems

The use of the "third degree" by police refers to a controversial and illegal practice of using extreme physical or psychological methods to extract information or confessions from individuals in custody. These methods often involve torture, violence, or other forms of coercion, and they are in direct violation of human rights and legal principles.

The term "third degree" originally referred to the physical brutality used by police officers during interrogations, but over time, it has come to encompass various forms of abuse, including psychological pressure, sleep deprivation, and other forms of mistreatment.

It's important to emphasize that the use of the third degree by police is widely condemned, illegal in most jurisdictions, and a violation of international human rights standards. Modern law enforcement agencies are expected to adhere to ethical and legal standards that prohibit the use of torture or abusive tactics during interrogations. Instead, they are encouraged to use lawful and humane methods of investigation, respecting the rights and dignity of individuals in custody while upholding the rule of law. Any allegations of police misconduct or the use of the third degree should be thoroughly investigated and addressed through appropriate legal channels.

Different methods of use of third degree by police
It must be clarified that the use of the "third degree" by police is illegal and unethical in many countries, and it involves the use of torture or abusive tactics during interrogations. Due to intervention of the Supreme Court, the instances of police torture have come down substantially. However, we can come across incidents of police torture and alleged fake police encounter from time to time in some states with the relatives of the victims being too terrified to pursue the cases of violation of human rights legally in police stations and courts.

Some common methods that have been historically associated with the third degree are noted below, but it's essential to stress that these practices are widely condemned and illegal and have come down drastically in recent times:
  • Physical Abuse: This may include beatings, slapping, punching, kicking, nail removal, or other forms of physical violence against the detainee.
  • Electric Shocks: The use of electric shocks, often applied to sensitive areas of the body, is a particularly cruel form of torture.
  • Burns and Scalding: Perpetrators may use heated objects, hot water, or chemicals to burn or scald the detainee's skin.
  • Suffocation or Strangulation: Techniques involving suffocation, such as putting a plastic bag over the head, or strangulation using hands or objects, have been used to extract information.
  • Stress Positions: Detainees are forced into painful or uncomfortable positions for extended periods, leading to physical pain and psychological distress.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Keeping a person awake for extended periods can lead to extreme exhaustion and disorientation, making them more susceptible to providing information.
  • Psychological Torture: This includes threats, intimidation, and mental abuse designed to break the detainee's will or induce fear.
  • Sexual Abuse: Some instances involve sexual assault or abuse as a method of coercion.
  • Mock Executions: Detainees may be led to believe that they are about to be executed, creating extreme psychological stress.
  • Isolation and Sensory Deprivation: Detainees may be placed in solitary confinement for extended periods, denied sensory input, or kept in complete darkness or silence.
  • Forced Confessions: False confessions may be coerced from detainees under duress and used as evidence.
  • Deceptive Practices: False promises or lies about potential legal consequences, evidence, or witnesses can be used to manipulate a detainee.
  • Denial of Basic Needs: Detainees may be denied access to food, water, medical care, or bathroom facilities to create discomfort and vulnerability.
  • Threats and Intimidation: Police may use threats of harm or intimidation to coerce individuals into providing information or confessing.
  • Hanging upside Down: Sometimes accused persons are hanged upside down to extract confession from them.
  • Extended Detention: Keeping a suspect in custody for an extended period without proper legal procedures, such as access to an advocate or a timely court appearance, can be considered a form of coercion.
  • Use of Restraints: The use of physical restraints, such as handcuffs or shackles, may be employed to exert control over a suspect.
  • Waterboarding: This involves simulated drowning, where a cloth is placed over the detainee's face and water is poured onto it, making it difficult to breathe.
  • Food Deprivation: Detainees may be denied food for extended periods, leading to physical and mental exhaustion.
  • Stripping and Humiliation: Police have been accused of subjecting detainees to forced nudity, humiliation, and degrading treatment.
  • Abuse targeting caste, community, or religion: Police have also been accused of using abusive language targeting the caste, community, or religion of the accused persons, particularly belonging to weaker sections of the society and minorities.
  • Abusing women family members: In some cases, police use abusive language targeting the women family members of the prisoner to humiliate him.
  • Forced Drug Administration: In some cases, detainees are drugged against their will, leading to disorientation, confusion, and memory loss.
  • Fake Encounter Killing: In some cases, police allegedly kill purported criminals in fake encounter without resorting to the existing legal practices. In one case some criminals were allegedly engaged to kill a prisoner during police/judicial custody to prevent the blame of fake encounter by police. The family of the victims find themselves too terrified of the state power to even take legal action against these incidents by going to the police station or to the court. Even some courts are reportedly finding themselves helpless in ordering action against such fake encounters.

The disturbing accounts from one previously terrorist affected state shed light on some of the harrowing and dehumanizing practices that were historically employed by some police authorities. Such methods included humiliating individuals by forcibly inserting rods into their rectums, inflicting excruciating pain by applying hot oil and chili where there were injuries, forcing people to lie over ice and subjecting them to beatings, as well as having policemen stand menacingly over victims' bodies.

In one particularly egregious case, a Sikh individual had ash poured on his head while innocently drying his hair. The use of cigarette butts for burning and hurling verbal insults at the female relatives of arrested persons further underscore the reprehensible nature of these practices, highlighting the urgent need for reforms and respect for human rights within law enforcement agencies.

Keeping people awake, making them stand or sit in positions that become uncomfortable, using "rollers" on the body, tying people to chairs and beating them in places such as under the legs where it is harder to leave marks of torture, hanging people on the arms to dislocate the shoulders, hanging upside down and spanking with special leather lashes; these are the usual methods. Shaving hair from the head or face is a means of humiliating someone.

Taking off your clothes is another way. And then there are many others that are far more terrifying and harmful, and some of which clearly fall under sexual abuse. These are the methods used in one of our neighbouring countries for extracting confessions and torturing accused persons.

Court Judgments against Police Torture
In the case of Raghbir Singh v. State of Haryana (1980), the Supreme Court of India upheld the appeal of Raghbir Singh and ruled that police torture is a shameful act that violates the fundamental rights of an individual. The court's judgment emphasized that the protection of the right to life and personal liberty, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, encompasses the right to be free from torture and any form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. As a crucial aspect of this ruling, the court ordered the state to provide compensation to Raghbir Singh due to the injuries he endured as a result of police torture.

Raghbir Singh, who was the petitioner in this case, had been arrested by the police in Haryana in connection with a theft case. While in police custody, he was subjected to severe, third-degree torture, which inflicted significant injuries on his body. The extent of the torture was so grave that Raghbir Singh had to be hospitalized for an extended period to recover from the harm he had suffered. The court held that the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The court further directed the state to pay compensation to Raghbir Singh for the injuries suffered by him due to police torture.

He had earlier filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court to seek compensation for the injuries suffered by him due to police torture, but did not get any relief from the High Court.

In the DK Basu v. State of West Bengal case, the Supreme Court made a significant ruling. They declared that when a person dies in police custody, it not only violates their fundamental rights but is also against the law. This type of death is particularly contrary to Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

To address this issue, the Supreme Court established specific rules and guidelines for how the police should handle arrests. These guidelines were designed to make arrest procedures more rigorous and comprehensive, with a strong emphasis on preventing any form of torture or abuse while in police custody.

Identification of Police Personnel: Officers who arrest someone and conduct interrogations must wear clear identification badges with their names and ranks. The details of all personnel involved in the interrogation must be recorded in an official register.

Arrest Memorandum: When a police officer arrests someone, they must create a document called an "arrest memorandum" right at the time of the arrest. This document should be witnessed by at least one person, who could be a family member of the arrested person or a respected person from the same area where the arrest happened. The arrested person should also sign this document, and it must include the exact time and date of the arrest.

Notification of Arrest: If someone is arrested or detained and held in a police station, interrogation centre, or similar place, they have the right to have a friend, relative, or someone else they trust informed about their arrest as soon as possible. However, this rule doesn't apply if the person witnessing the arrest is already a friend or relative of the arrested person.

Informing Next of Kin: The police must inform the arrested person's family or a trusted person outside the district or city about the time, place of detention, and where they are being held. This information should be communicated through the District's Legal Aid Organization and the local police station. The police in the area where the arrest took place should be informed by telegraph within 8 to 12 hours of the arrest.

Informing the Arrested Person: The person being arrested must be told about their right to inform someone about their arrest or detention as soon as they are taken into custody.

Register Entry: An entry must be made in a record book at the place of detention regarding the arrest of the person. This entry should also include the name of the person informed about the arrest and the names and details of the police officers responsible for the arrest and interrogation of the arrestee.

Medical Examination: Upon request, the person under arrest must be examined at the time of arrest, and any major or minor injuries on their body must be documented. Both the detainee and the arresting police officer should sign an "Inspection Memo," and a copy should be provided to the detainee.

Medical Check-ups: While in custody, the arrested person must undergo a medical examination by a trained doctor every 48 hours. These doctors should be part of a panel of approved physicians appointed by the Director of Health Services in the relevant state or territory.

Document Submission to Magistrate: All documents related to the arrest, including the arrest memorandum, must be sent to the judicial magistrate for official record.

Meeting with an Advocate: The arrested person may be allowed to meet with their lawyer during questioning, although not throughout the entire interrogation.

Police Control Room: All central district and state police offices, must have a control room where the arresting officer must provide information about the arrest and the location of the arrested person's custody within 12 hours of the arrest. This information should also be displayed on a visible notice board in the Police Control Room.

When the arresting authority fails or refuses to adhere to these requirements, there are specific consequences that ensue:

Departmental Action: The authorities responsible for making the arrest may face disciplinary or departmental action. This action can range from reprimands to more serious penalties within their organization.

Contempt of Court: Non-compliance with these requirements can lead to a charge of contempt of court. In such cases, legal proceedings for contempt will be initiated in the High Court that has territorial jurisdiction over the matter. This means that the court will take action against those who have disregarded its orders or guidelines.

In the case of 2014 SCC ONLINE GUJ 11365 [WRIT PETITION (PIL) 200 OF 2012], the petitioner filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to bring to the Court's attention multiple instances of custodial torture. In response to this pressing issue, the Court proposed a solution to address these concerns.

To mitigate the occurrence of torture in police custody, the Court suggested that CCTV cameras be installed in police stations. It asked the state government to assess the feasibility of this proposal. The State Government supported the idea and recommended the installation of CCTV cameras in police stations across the state.

The Court further ordered that the tender process for the installation of these cameras should be expedited, and the state government should take all necessary steps to ensure the prompt installation of the cameras. However, CCTV cameras are yet to be installed at all police stations of the country.

It is important to reiterate that torture in police custody is not only inhumane but also illegal in most jurisdictions. They violate international human rights standards, and individuals subjected to such treatment are entitled to protection and legal remedies. In many countries, law enforcement agencies are subject to strict regulations, oversight, and accountability mechanisms to prevent the use of the third degree and ensure humane treatment of detainees.

Any allegation of police misconduct or torture should be thoroughly investigated and addressed through legal channels. While there are many legal protections against police torture and the incidents of police torture have reduced substantially, the cases of police torture and fake police encounter are still prevalent in some corners of the country.


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