The Supreme Court’s Position on the Effect of Inducement, Threat, Promise or Torture on a Confessional Statement

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TITLE: THE SUPREME COURT’S POSITION ON THE EFFECT OF INDUCEMENT, THREAT, PROMISE OR TORTURE ON A CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT

CASE TITLE:         SIRAJO MUHAMMED DONDOS v.  THE STATE (2021) LPELR-           53380(SC)

JUDGMENT DATE:    29TH JANUARY, 2021

JUSTICES:                MARY UKAEGO PETER-ODILI, JSC

                                OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, JSC

                                CHIMA CENTUS NWEZE, JSC

                                EJEMBI EKO, JSC

                                UWANI MUSA ABBA AJI, JSC

PRACTICE AREA:     Criminal Law and Procedure – Offence of Armed Robbery

FACTS:

The appellant, in this case, was the 2nd accused person at the Katsina State High Court along with two other accused persons who were charged and arraigned on a two-count charge of armed robbery committed on the 30th day of January 2002 and in April 2002.

In proof of his case at the trial Court, the prosecution called a number of witnesses in the main trial and during the trial within trial. The recorded statement of the Appellant was confirmed by the Appellant as the statement he made to the Police when he was cross-examined. Though the Appellant later denied the said confessional statement, after a comprehensive trial within trial to determine the admissibility of the said confessional statement, the trial court said it found no evidence to contradict the prosecution’s testimony that the confessional statement was obtained voluntarily, consequently, same was admitted in evidence.

The accused/appellant was convicted for the offence of Armed Robbery under Section 1 (2) (a) (b) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provision) Act Cap 398 LFN 1990, by the trial Court. The Appellant being dissatisfied with the judgment of the Trial Court appealed to the Court of Appeal Kaduna Division on the ground that the decision of the High Court was unreasonable, unwarranted and cannot be supported having regards to the evidence adduced at the trial. The appellant further contended at the Court of Appeal that the two-count charge of armed robbery was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. The Court of Appeal found no merit in the appeal and dismissed the same, affirming the conviction and sentence. Further aggrieved, the Appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.

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ISSUE(S) FOR DETERMINATION:

The appeal was determined on the lone issue:

Whether having regarded the available evidence and the entire circumstance surrounding the matter, the lower Court was right to affirm the decision of the trial Court in this matter.

The case of the Appellant, in a nutshell, was that he had no link with the charge; was not found with any form of weapon; was not arrested at the scene of the crime and the available evidence is just the alleged confessional statement of a doubtful origin since he was tortured and shot on the leg before he signed the said statement. That the appeal should be allowed.

On the part of the Respondent, it was argued that the totality of the evidence placed by the prosecution before the trial Court was enough to secure the conviction of the appellant for the offence of armed robbery. That the concurrent findings of the two Courts below were well-grounded for which the Supreme Court should not interfere to disturb the findings and conclusions thereof.

DECISION/HELD:

On the whole, the Supreme Court held that there was merit in the appeal and accordingly allowed it. Consequent upon this, the Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal which affirmed the decision, conviction and sentence of the trial Court.

RATIOS:

  1. CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE – OFFENCE OF ARMED ROBBERY: Ingredients required to be proved by the prosecution to establish the offence of armed robbery; ways of proving the offence of armed robbery

“In a case of armed robbery such as the one under discourse, it is incumbent on the prosecution to prove the essential elements of the offence which are as follows: –

  1. That there was a robbery or series of robberies;
  2. That each robbery was an armed robbery i.e., stealing plus violence with a weapon or arms;
  3. That the accused/appellant was one of those who took part in the armed robbery.

I refer to Eke v State (2011) 1-2 SC (part II) 219; Ugboji v State (2018) 10 NWLR (pt. 1627) 346; Orisa v State (2018) 11 NWLR (pt. 1631) 453 (SC); The State v Odunayo Ajayi (2016) 14 NWLR (pt. 1532) 216. In proving or establishing the necessary ingredients above stated in a charge or armed robbery just as in any other criminal matter, the prosecution can achieve the same by the deployment of any of the following methods, viz:

  1. Direct and credible evidence; or
  2. Circumstantial evidence, or
  3. The confessional statement of the accused person.
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See Babatunde v State (2014) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1391) P.341.” Per PETER-ODILI, J.S.C.

  1. CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE – CONVICTION: Whether conviction must be based on proof of offence beyond reasonable doubt

“The Court of law enjoined by the Evidence Act to sustain conviction of an accused person of an alleged offence only upon proof beyond reasonable doubt must by law, to sustain conviction of an accused person for a criminal offence act only on empirical evidence and not on mere intuition or hunches. I agree with Georgewill, J.C.A., that there can be no conviction for a criminal offence on Court’s perception of morality alone without legal evidence. See UGOCHUKWU v. FRN (2016) LPELR – 40785 (CA).” Per EKO, J.S.C.

  1. EVIDENCE – CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT: Effect of an inducement, threat, promise or torture on a confessional statement; duty of the court to ascertain the truthfulness or otherwise of a confessional statement

“The decision of the trial Court which was anchored on Exhibit B, the confessional statement was affirmed by the Court below in circumstances which left some questions unanswered. This is because there arose the issue of the statement having been obtained by torture including a gun shot on the leg and threats on the appellant which induced him to sign the Exhibit B as his. Those facts were elicited during the proceedings at the trial within trial. The situation therefore brings to mind the fact that a confession is irrelevant in a criminal proceeding if the making of the confessional has been caused by inducement, threat, promise or torture having reference to the charge against the accused person proceeding from a person in authority as the case in hand thereby raising the issue if the admission of the said confessional statement was not improper and having been admitted ought to be expunged. See Inusa Saidu v State (1982) 2 SC 26 at 36.

Again, to be said is that the truth of Exhibit B was not examined by both the trial Court and the lower Court and the evidence elicited during the mini trial was enough to render the said exhibit unreliable and the situation in this case become more dire with the sole reliance on the said doubtful confession to support the conviction of the appellant. The point is all the more crucial as there is corroborative evidence from DW5 and appellant that the appellant had wounds and blood all over him while with the police at the time Exhibit B was obtained from him and this critical piece of evidence was not challenged or controverted by the police at the trial thus providing a curious scenario as to why the Court of trial believed and relied on it. This runs counter to the principle that evidence not challenged is taken as admitted by the opposing party. See Akinmoju v State (2000) 4 SC (pt. I) 64; Alarape v State (2001) 5 NWLR (pt. 205) 79; Okoebor v Police Council (2003) 12 NELR (pt. 834) 444 at 472; Dawa v State (1980) 8-11 SC 147.

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It needs be reiterated that the law still remains as it is to the effect that in ascertaining the truthfulness or otherwise of a confessional statement, the Court is enjoined to seek any other evidence of circumstances which make it possible if the confession is true and in this instance that principle was not applied by either of the two Courts below and so leaves me without option than to hold Exhibit B, an unreliable piece of evidence that cannot on its own sustain a conviction. See Shurumo v State (2010) 5 NWLR (pt.1218) 65; Oseni v State (2012) 5 NWLR (pt.41) 513 at 537; Balogun v A.G. Federation (1994) 5 NWLR (pt. 345)442.” Per PETER-ODILI, J.S.C.

  1. EVIDENCE – CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT: Effect of an inducement, threat or promise on a confessional statement; Conditions to be satisfied for an inducement, threat or promise to make a confessional statement irrelevant and inadmissible

“It is settled law that for an inducement, threat or promise to make a confessional statement irrelevant and therefore inadmissible, two conditions must be present (i) it must have reference to the charge against the defendant; and (ii) the defendant should believe that by making the statement, he would gain advantage and avoid evil even if temporarily. A confessional statement becomes involuntary, if the statement could not normally have been made but for the “inducement, threat or promise” emanating from a person in authority. This was revealed by the statement of the Appellant that he was induced and threatened by the Police into signing Exhibit B. A statement of inducement by a person in authority was held inadmissible in HASKE V. QUEEN (1961) LPELR-25081(SC).” Per ABBA AJI, J.S.C.

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