In a dimly lit interrogation room, a suspect sits on an uncomfortable metal chair while two police officers ask him a series of questions. They’re playing the good cop/bad cop routine, hoping they’ll get information for a murder investigation. As the hours pass by, the suspect finally breaks and says “ It was me, I did it”. He has confessed to the crime.
While it’s common to think that after the confession, the next step is to chuck the suspect into jail and throw away the keys – basically case closed. The reality is actually more than different, because a confession may not be enough to find the suspect guilty in court. Under Malaysian law, a confession is merely a piece of evidence to be used against him, and it has to be weighed against all other evidences.
A confession therefore, is not really different from from a murder weapon with the suspect’s fingerprints all over it. Only once the court decides that all the evidence is enough to prove the man’s guilty, then he can be sent to prison.
So for a confession to be used in court…..
The confession must be admissible under the law
When it comes to presenting evidence in court, not all evidence will be allowed in court. Take for example a murder case involving a stabbing. The prosecution can’t simply present any random knife in court, they’d have to present the murder knife itself.
It’s similar with confessions too, because not all confession statements will be admissible unless it falls under Section 17 of the Evidence Act which says:
The section simply states that a confession is nothing more than a suspect saying he admits to committing the crime. So if a suspect says:
- “I confess…...that I really love my girlfriend: = It’s NOT A CONFESSION
- “I confess that I was at the murder scene, but I was only standing there” = It’s NOT A CONFESSION
- “I confess I killed him, by stabbing him with a knife” = CONFESSION
But as you may already know, even if a statement can be considered to be a confession under the law, the law usually has exceptions. A confession can’t be used if….
The confession was not obtained properly
The exceptions we’re about to discuss exists to protect the rights of suspects, and also to make sure that the PDRM don’t abuse their powers. Because although a confession may just be a piece of evidence, it can carry quite amount of weight in relation to guilt. So these exceptions exist to ensure that a confession comes out willingly from a suspect, and it’s obtained very carefully.
The first instance which would make a confession unusable is where...
To make sure a confession is given willingly and truthfully, there are certain things the PDRM can’t do.
Under Section 24 of the Evidence Act, the PDRM can’t threaten, induce, or make a promise to the suspect to get a confession. This is because, it may result in the suspect confessing just to avoid harm or get an “easy way out”– which means the confession is at risk of not being true.
This provision was applied in the case of PP v Naikan, where a man confessed to shooting a woman because he mistook her for a pig (don’t ask why, we couldn’t find out why either). During the questioning, he confessed, after being told “You had better tell the truth”, and the court said that was enough to become a threat. Therefore, his confession couldn’t be used.
Malaysian law prohibits the use of a confession in court, if it was obtained as a result of oppression.
I’m sure you would’ve seen in terrorism movies, interrogators using torture methods to obtain information from terrorism suspects. Unfortunately, using such methods isn’t just cruel but it can result in the suspect giving information just to avoid more harm – and again, the information may be at risk of being false.
Following the case of PP v Dato Mokhtar Hashim, which involved an interrogation for a murder case which took extremely long hours, the court held that the long hours amounted to oppression. The court further said that oppression will be where the interrogation saps the free will of the person. So it doesn’t necessarily mean someone has to get beaten up, because depriving someone of food and interrogating him for hours would be enough.
This provision has less to do with protecting the rights of the suspect, and more to do with ensuring appropriate conduct by the PDRM.
Section 25 is pretty straightforward and it says, if a confession was given to a lower ranked officer (for example, a Sergeant), it can’t be used later in court. However if the confession was given to a police officer ranked Inspector or above, it can be used as evidence.
When a person is arrested or brought to the police station and then later confesses during an interrogation, the confession can’t later be used as evidence. If there’s an intention to use a confession of someone under police custody, they have to do so according to Section 26 which states:
So technically a confession of someone while in police custody can be used in court, but that confession has to be made in the presence of a Magistrate or Sessions Court Judge.
A confession doesn’t always mean someone’s guilty
Simply put, a confession is a strong piece of evidence and that’s why it’s allowed in to be used in our courts against a suspect. However, because a confession is capable of putting someone in jail – our laws ensure that confessions are obtained following strict procedures. If these procedures aren’t followed, a confession could be worthless as it can’t be used in court.
In essence, it’s not always the case that if someone confesses to a crime, that person is guilty. A confession must be given voluntarily and freely.