In the course of attaining justice, the Nigerian Administration of Criminal Justice system has made ample provisions for ratios upon which a suspect’s guilt and subsequent conviction may be established. Without an iota of skepticism, and as been appraised by temples of Justice in a surfeit of authorities, a statement furnished by the accused whether to the police or the court, in confession to the crime(s) alleged, is simply the easiest of all (1). Owing to the unfettered liberty of the accused, he could choose to retract his confessional statement assumably, due to how such statement was gotten from him, or because he never made the statements all (2). This article seeks to examine the options open to a court when faced with retracted confessions of the accused vis-a-vis the admissibility of confessional statements.
Home law Articles RETRACTED CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT VIS-A-VIS ITS ADMISIBILITY by Abdulazeez Abdullah Abayomi
The Black’s law lexicon, (3) defines confession as “A criminal suspect’s oral or written acknowledgement of guilt, often including details about the crime.”
Also, confession was defined by John H. Wigmore in his book. He said, “Confession is a an acknowledgement in express words, by the accused in a criminal case, of the truth of the main fact charged or of some essential part of it. (4).
In the same vein, the court in the case of MAMMAN v. FRN, (5) the court defined confession as follows. “A confession is an acknowledgement of guilt by whoever makes the confession and it is usually in writing but may be made orally.”
A somewhat lucid insight to confession was given too by the Evidence Act. (6) It defines it as “as an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed that crime.”
Before delving into the crux of this article, having given a novel insight to the concept of confession, it is quite pertinent to point out that the vertebra of admissibility in the Nigerian criminal corpus juris is Relevancy. In the presence of a universe of authorities, this is no argument devoid of substance. Section 1 of the Evidence Act makes relevancy the bulwark of admissibility. Furthermore, section 29, Evidence Act stipulates to wit:
29(1)“In any proceeding, a confession made by a defendant may be given in evidence against him in so far as it is RELEVANT to any matter in issue in the proceedings and is not excluded by the court in pursuance of this section.” This position of law has enjoyed legal blessing in the case of JAMES NOAH v. STATE (7) Thus, foremost, for a confessional STATEMENT to be admissible, such must be shown to be relevant.
ADMISSIBILITY OF CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT
Having succinctly dealt with the issue of relevance of confessional as explicated by the Evidence Act, another hurdle that needs to be crossed is the issue of admisibility.
Making this explicit is the provision of Evidence Act which predicates the cornerstone of admisibility on VOLUNTARINESS of such statement.
Section 29(2) of Evidence Act provides to the effect that before a confession can be admissible in court, such must not have been taken by oppression of the person who made it.
Pursuant to this, Section 29(3) of Evidence Act empowers the court to raise inquiry suo moto to the mode via which the confessional statement was obtained. This has been long settled by Lord Summer in the case of IBRAHIM v. R (8)
RETRACTED CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT: EFFECT THEREOF:
After the trial has commenced and the prosecution while proving his case, amongst other exhibits, may decide to present to the court, a confessional statement of the accused. In this process, the accused may object to this statement on the ground that he wishes to retract such statement. This is usually either of two reasons, to wit;
1) That he made or signed the statement, but not voluntarily.
2) That he did not make the statement at all. (9)
In the former case, where the accused admits making or signing the statement, even though not voluntarily, it is for the court to conduct what is known to be “trial within trial”. Simplicita, a trial within trial is that type of trial that the court embarks on, in order to determine the voluntariness or otherwise of a confessional statement. The very recent case of USMAN v. STATE (2019) 15 NWLR is resourceful in this regard. Also the cases of OJEGELE v. THE STATE (1985) N.S.C.C 276, IKPASA v. A.G. BENDEL (1982) 3 NCLR 152, NWANGBOMU v. STATE (1992) 2NWLR pt 327 and some other ample authorities.
In the latter case, where the accused denies making the statement in entirety, this may arise in different forms, some of which are that;
a) he never made the statement at all;
b) he was never cautioned before making the statement;
c) that the statement was not made voluntarily;
d) he never signed it or made any thumb impression on it;
e) he statement is not his handwriting as he is not literate
f) the statement was not read over to him 10
In any of the above situations, it is a matter of fact to be resolved my evidence before the court. The statement will be considered along with the entire evidence and circumstances of the case for weight to be attached to it. In other words, the weight that a trial courts attaches to a statement, following it’s retraction, is what is important. In other words, a retracted confessional statement which the accused denies making is still admissible before the court. Such retraction or denial however should be considered when deciding the weight to be attached to the confession. SULE v. STATE (2009) 17 NWLR, OSENI v. STATE (2012) 5 NWLR (pt 1293) IDOWU v. STATE (1998)11 NWLR (pt 574)
In order to decipher the veracity of the statement of the accused, the supreme court in the case of CORPORATE JONA DRAWS v.THE STATE (11), per Obaseki JSC posed six questions which a Judge must ask himself before attaching weight to the confessional statement of an accused person thus:
a) Is there anything outside the confession to show that it is true?
b) Is it corroborated?
c) Are the relevant statements made in it of facts, true as far as they can be tested?
d) Did the accused have an opportunity to commit the offence?
e) Is his confession possible?
f) Is it consistent with other facts which have been ascertained and have been proved?
These questions certainly will assist a trial judge to determine how to treat such retracted confessional statement.
It therefore suffices to say that “…a free and voluntary confession of guilt by an accused, if it is direct and possible, and is duly made and satisfactorily proved, is sufficient to warrant conviction without corroborative evidence as long as the court is satisfied as to the truth of the confessional statement…” (12)
Just as no definition can be given to end all definitions, and as no book can be written to exhaust all spheres of a principle of law, this article has sought to and has addressed the issue of confessional statement of acusseds when presented before the court, particularly when such confession is withdrawn or denied. Also, rowing through the boat of the topic has justice been done to when the court will have a cause to consider a confession at all; relevance.
1. OLUSOLA ADEYEMI v. THE STATE (2015) 240 LRCN
2. USMAN v. STATE (2019) 15 NWLR
3. 9th edition, page 338.
4. Evidence in Trials at Common Law, 1970 4th edition, page 308.
5. (2013) vol.219(2) LRCN (pt2) 142
6. Section 28
8. (1924) AC 599.
9.O SENI v. STATE (2012) 5 NWLR (pt 1293)
11. (1980)8-11 SC 26
12. USMAN v. STATE (2019) 15 NWLR