23 September 2023
New Delhi, India – The Supreme Court has unequivocally statedin Rajesh v State of MP that for a confession made to the police to be admissible under Section 27 of the Evidence Act, two fundamental conditions must be met: the individual must be ‘accused of any offense,’ and they must be in ‘police custody’ at the time of making the confession.
In a significant ruling, the Court emphasized that “being in ‘the custody of a police officer’ and being ‘accused of an offense’ are essential prerequisites for making a confession to the police admissible under the limited exception provided by Section 27 of the Evidence Act.”
A three-judge bench comprising Justices BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala, and Sanjay Kumar delivered this judgment while hearing an appeal challenging a decision of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The High Court had upheld the conviction of Omprakash Yadav with a life sentence and imposed the death penalty on Raja Yadav and Rajesh Yadav for their involvement in the kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old boy.
Omprakash Yadav was convicted under Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in conjunction with Section 120B of the IPC. Meanwhile, Raja Yadav and Rajesh Yadav were found guilty under Section 302 of the IPC along with Section 120B and Section 364A of the IPC, respectively.
The Supreme Court meticulously examined the circumstances surrounding the recording of Rajesh Yadav’s confession. Notably, the police had recorded his statement without formally arresting him, and he was not legally considered “accused of an offense” at that point. It was upon this contested confession that the discovery of the deceased’s body was made.
The Court referred to Section 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which explicitly states that
“no confession made by any person whilst he is in the custody of a police officer shall be proved against such person unless it is made in the immediate presence of a Magistrate.”
Section 27 of the same act, which serves as an exception to Section 26, stipulates that
“when any fact is deposed to as discovered in consequence of information received from a person accused of any offense, in the custody of a police officer, so much of such information, whether it amounts to a confession or not, as relates distinctly to the fact thereby discovered, may be proved.”
The Court referred to the pivotal case of Bodhraj alias Bodha v. State of Jammu & Kashmir (2002) 8 SCC 45, which emphasized the reliability of information disclosed by a person in custody. It underscored that this information becomes inadmissible under Section 26 of the Evidence Act if it did not originate from a person in the ‘custody of a police officer’—a critical distinction.
The Court further cited the case of State of Karnataka v. David Rozario (2002) 7 SCC 728, reinforcing that information admissible under Section 27 of the Evidence Act becomes inadmissible if it does not come from a person in ‘police custody’ or comes from a person ‘not in the custody of a police officer.’ It emphasized the importance of the information itself over the police officer’s opinion.
Additionally, the Court invoked the case of Ashish Jain v. Makrand Singh (2019) 3 SCC 770, asserting that an involuntary confessional statement of the accused is not admissible under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India. While there are constraints on accepting self-incriminatory evidence, if such evidence leads to the recovery of material objects related to a crime, it typically holds evidentiary value.
Furthermore, the Court noted the recent case of Boby v. State of Kerala (2023 LiveLaw (SC) 50), where it referenced the Privy Council’s decision in Pulukuri Kotayya v. King Emperor (AIR 1947 Privy Council 67) and underscored the crucial prerequisites of being “accused of any offense” and being in “police custody” to invoke Section 27 of the Evidence Act.
In the present case, the Court concluded that “the purported discovery of the dead body, the murder weapon, and the other material objects, even if made at the behest of Rajesh Yadav, cannot be proved against him.” This ruling was based on the fact that he was not ’accused of any offense’ and was not in ‘police custody’ when the confession was recorded. The Court held that this lapse on the part of the police was fatal to the prosecution’s case, which heavily relied on the ‘recoveries’ made at the appellants’ behest, ostensibly under Section 27 of the Evidence Act.