Muhammad Ismail v. State (2017 SCMR 713)

An in-court “confession” is only an admission unless it meets the strict requirements of CrPC 342. Admissions must be corroborated, and usually cannot justify the death penalty.

Tags: Murder   Tainted confession  

The accused was tried for killing his brother. He was convicted under PPC 302(b) and sentenced to death. The Lahore High Court confirmed conviction and sentence. At trial, the accused admitted to the offence in his statements under oath as per Cr.P.C section 340(2), and he re-affirmed that admission under questioning from the trial court judge as under Cr.P.C 342.

Both lower courts relied heavily on the “confession.” The Supreme Court ruled that the accused’s statements were an admission, not a confession. To be legally admissible, an in-court confession must meet a strict definition, which the court cited as follows:

  1. That the accused is in full senses and understands the consequences of making a confession;
  2. That, the confession was not a result of any duress, coercion or any promise by the prosecution, to be made an approver;
  3. That, during transit of the accused by the police from and to the Trial Court from the prison, on each “Paishi”no threat or pressure was applied by the escorting police guard or incharge thereof;
  4. What were the actual facts, which induced the accused to confess after facing trial, during which he pleaded innocence all the way;
  5. The court recording the confession has to ensure that the mental capacity of the accused is not diminished due to any illness and if some indication of abnormality is suspected by the Court, it is better to refer the accused to the Standing Medical Boardto ascertain the true cause thereof;
  6. While recording the confession, the same safeguards and precautions be adopted, by directing the Public Prosecutor, the complainant’s counsel, the Naib Court and all other officials to leave the Court. If need be, the counsel who represents him, may be given an opportunity to be present inside the Court during the whole process, if the accused person, on asking by the Trial Judge, so demands;
  7. The handcuffs of the accused be removed and he be provided a chair on the dais. He may be given some time to think over the making of the confession and in that regard particular questions be put to him, as to why he was making the confession when he has already pleaded innocence and claimed trial at the time, the formal charge was framed;
  8. The Trial Judge shall explain to the accused that, in case of making confession, he has to face a capital sentence in a murder case or any offence punishable with death;
  9. The entire record of all the questions and answers recorded, be properly maintained and thereafter, a proper certificatebe appended thereto, showing the satisfaction of the Trial Judge that the accused person was not mentally sick and he was making the confession voluntarily, based on true facts and that, there was no other compelling reason behind that. (Emphasis added)

Because these requirements were not met, the court ruled that the statements were not a confession but rather a mere admission and stated that “ordinarily on such admission, awarding capital sentence of death shall be avoided and to prove the guilt of an accused, evidence of the complainant or the prosecution has to be recorded, in the interest of safe administration of justice.” Therefore, the admission was insufficient evidence to support a death sentence and because the prosecution had otherwise failed to meet its burden of proof, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.