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Retracted Confession: Evidentiary Value

Retracted Confession is the act of disavowing a previously made confession. The term 'retract' denotes the action of formally withdrawing or rejecting previously made statements. A retracted confession is a statement made by the accused prior to the trial in which they acknowledge their guilt, but later reject it during the trial. A confession is considered retracted when the accused acknowledges making it but denies the truth of its contents.

According to Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, a confession will not be considered valid if it is not given freely and voluntarily. It is the duty of the interrogator to refrain from using any form of inducement, threat, or promise to extract a confession from the accused.

This principle of voluntariness is derived from common law, and the Indian Penal Code has incorporated it to protect prisoners from coercion and torture. Retracting confessions is a common occurrence in many criminal cases, and this can be attributed to various factors such as inadequate police protection, lack of proper witness protection mechanisms, and vulnerability of witnesses and accused individuals in high profile cases.

According to Section 76(2) of PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984) of the United Kingdom, the court is required to eliminate from the trial proceedings any confession evidence that was obtained through either oppressive means or in circumstances that could render the confession unreliable.

The right to retract confessions is a fundamental right afforded to all confessors and accused individuals, and has been consistently exercised by both parties. However, the high number of retractions in India indicates that these confessions are not often motivated by genuine feelings of remorse, but rather by inducement, threats, torture, or false hope. When a confession has been retracted, the court must fulfil certain responsibilities in evaluating its validity by considering all factors.

As previously mentioned, the general law governing retracted confessions can be summarized as follows: it is not a legal requirement, but rather a matter of prudence, that if the confession is made voluntarily and the court is convinced of its accuracy, it may be used as evidence for a conviction, provided it is supported by corroborating evidence.

The Supreme Court has clarified its stance on retracted confessions in the case of Pyare Lal Bhargava v. State of Rajasthan, stating that a retracted confession can serve as grounds for conviction if it is deemed to be true and given voluntarily. However, the Court has also ruled that a conviction cannot be solely based on a retracted confession without additional evidence.

In the case of Subramania Gounden v. The State of Madras, it was established that a retracted confession can be considered by a court. However, the court must investigate the motives behind the confession and its subsequent retraction.

According to the ruling in HaroonHazi Abdulla v. State of Maharashtra, it must be given significant consideration unless it is blatantly clear that the justifications for retracting a confession are untrue.

The case of Subramania Gounden demonstrated the level of corroboration that is necessary. It is not mandatory for each aspect of the withdrawn confession, regarding the involvement of the confessor, to be supported by separate evidence. It is satisfactory for the confession to be validated by any proof that aligns with the details stated in the confession.

The Constitutional Bench in Haricharan Kurmi v. State of Bihar provided further clarification on the legal position after considering previous decisions. In a case involving an accused, the court must first evaluate the prosecution's evidence and then turn to the confession to strengthen its decision. As for retracted confessions, the applicable general law can be summarized as follows: while not a rule of law, it is a prudent practice to consider a retracted confession as a valid basis for conviction if it was made voluntarily and the court deems it truthful, as long as there is substantial corroboration from material particulars.

Retracted confessions refer to situations where an individual initially admits to committing a crime but later recants or withdraws that admission. This phenomenon is multifaceted and can arise from various factors, including coercion, mental illness, misunderstanding, or a desire to protect someone else. Understanding retracted confessions is crucial in the legal system as they can have a significant impact on the course of justice.

One of the primary reasons for retractions is coercion. Law enforcement tactics such as intimidation, threats, physical abuse, or prolonged interrogation can pressure innocent individuals into confessing to crimes they did not commit out of fear or exhaustion. The case of the Central Park Five is a well-known example where five teenagers confessed to raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989 after hours of intense police interrogation. However, they later retracted their confessions, and DNA evidence ultimately proved their innocence.

Mental illness or intellectual disabilities can also lead to false confessions. Individuals with conditions like schizophrenia may struggle to distinguish reality from fantasy, making them susceptible to admitting guilt for crimes they did not commit. In such cases, their confessions may be retracted once they regain clarity or receive proper legal representation.

Misunderstanding or miscommunication during the confession process can also result in retractions. For instance, individuals may confess to a crime they did not commit due to confusion, language barriers, or pressure to please authority figures. Once they understand the consequences of their confession, they may retract their confession. This was the case for Jeffrey Deskovic, who falsely confessed to murder at the age of 16 after hours of interrogation without a lawyer present. He later recanted, and DNA evidence exonerated him after spending 16 years in prison.

Retracted confessions can stem from a variety of reasons, one of which is the desire to shield others from legal consequences. In situations where familial or peer pressure is at play, individuals may falsely confess to a crime in order to protect their loved ones. However, feelings of guilt or a sense of injustice may eventually lead them to retract their initial admission and reveal the truth. This was evident in the case of Jens Soering, who initially confessed to a double murder in 1985 to protect his girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom. He later recanted his confession, claiming that he only confessed under duress and that Haysom was the true culprit.

The presence of retracted confessions poses significant challenges to the criminal justice system. It raises concerns about the reliability of evidence and the integrity of the legal process. Furthermore, once a confession is made public, it can potentially bias judges and jurors, making it difficult to ensure a fair trial.

To address the issue of retracted confessions, legal reforms are necessary. Law enforcement should adopt interrogation techniques that prioritize obtaining accurate information instead of solely focusing on securing a confession by any means necessary. Additionally, suspects should have access to legal counsel during questioning to prevent coercion and safeguard their rights.

In conclusion, the phenomenon of retracted confessions highlights the complexities and vulnerabilities of the criminal justice system. It is crucial to understand the factors that contribute to false confessions in order to protect the rights of individuals and uphold the principles of justice. By addressing these issues, society can strive towards a legal system that is fair, reliable, and impartial.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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