Accused’s Confessional Statement: When to Object to its Admissibility
The Appellant and two others persons were charged before the High Court of Benue State, on a two count charge of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and armed robbery. The Appellant entered a plea of not guilty, and the prosecution opened its case. The Prosecution’s witnesses testified, and one exhibit was tendered in evidence by the Prosecution. The Appellant, as the accused person, testified in his own defence. In its judgement, the trial court convicted the Appellant and sentenced him to death. The Appellant filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, which was dismissed in its entirety. Consequently, the Appellant filed a further appeal at the Supreme Court.
The Appellant and the Respondent filed and exchanged their briefs of argument, and they formulated two issues for determination, respectively. The Court however, adopted the issues formulated by the Respondent, in the determination of the appeal.
Issues for Determination 1. Whether Exhibit ‘1’, the Appellant’s confessional statement is inadmissible in law.
2. Whether the Prosecution proved the case alleged against the Appellant beyond reasonable doubt, having regard to the evidence before the trial court.
Arguments Arguing Issue 1, counsel for the Appellant submitted that, Exhibit ‘1’, the Appellant’s purported confessional statement, was inadmissible in law. He argued that, Exhibit ‘1’was obtained from the Appellant through threat, torture and under duress. He also argued that, Exhibit ‘1’ being a document emanating from the custody of the Nigeria Police was a public document within the ambit of the law, and for the purposes of admissibility. He contended that, it is only a certified true copy of Exhibit ‘1’that is admissible, and no other kind. In his submission, he stated that, not even the original of a public document is admissible in law, and that failure to challenge its admissibility before the trial court, does not disqualify a challenge to its admissibility on appeal. Counsel for the Appellant submitted furthermore that, the failure of the trial court to conduct a trial within trial before Exhibit 1 was admitted is fatal, as the same should have been expunged from the record of the trial court. He submitted that, Exhibit ‘1’ was thus, inadmissible evidence wrongly admitted in evidence.
Conversely, counsel for the Respondent submitted that, all the conditions for admissibility of Exhibit ‘1’ were met. He submitted that, there was no objection to the admissibility of Exhibit ‘1’ in the course of tendering it, hence, there was no basis to establish that the statement was voluntarily made by conducting a trial within trial. He further submitted that, where evidence is unchallenged and uncontroverted, such evidence is accepted as proof of a fact it seeks to establish, and a trial court is entitled to rely and act on such evidence. He cited MILITARY GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE & ORS v ADEBAYO ADEJIGA & RS (2012) VOL. 205, LRCN 1, 45 AP.
On the argument that it is only a certified true copy of Exhibit ‘1’, being a public document, that is admissible and no other kind, counsel for the Respondent contended that, there is no section of the Evidence Act that provides that primary evidence of a public document is inadmissible in evidence. He maintained that, Section 105 of the Evidence Act permits certified true copies of public documents to be tendered in proof of the contents of public documents or any part thereof, and Exhibit ‘1’ was tendered in its original form as the primary document. He urged the court to hold that, the said exhibit was properly admitted in evidence.
On Issue 2, counsel for the Appellant argued that, the Respondent did not prove the ingredients of the offence of armed robbery against the Appellant.
Counsel for the Respondent, on the other hand, maintained that the Respondent successfully proved the case against the Appellant, beyond reasonable doubt. He submitted that, the guilt of an accused person can be proved either by the confessional statement of the accused, or by circumstantial evidence, or by the evidence of an eye witness to the crime. He cited HARUNA v ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION (2012) VOL. 209 LRCN 70, 94, F – P. He stated that the Appellant voluntarily confessed to the commission of the offences he was charged with, and his confessional statement (Exhibit 1) was corroborated by the eye witness account of PW3, the victim of the crime and informant to the police. He further submitted that, a conviction for the offence of armed robbery can only be sustained, where there is proof of the ingredients of the offence of armed robbery - that there was a robbery, the robbery was an armed robbery, and the accused person was the robber. He contended that, the Respondent proved all these ingredients beyond reasonable doubt, before the Appellant was convicted.
Court’s Judgement and Rationale On the 1st issue, the Court held that if an accused person does not object when his confessional statement is being tendered, and did not lead any cogent evidence in his testimony in court resiling from the contents of the statement, then he is deemed to have conceded that the statement was obtained voluntarily and admitting it, becomes the result. The Court cited BELLO SHURUMO v THE STATE (2012) VOL. 10 LRCNCC 1 AT 28 and BASSEY v STATE (2012) 12 NWLR (PT. 1314) 209. The Court held that, indeed, the Appellant's objection after trial, over the admission of his extra-judicial confessional statement, raising the flag of torture and duress, is an objection too late in the day, since the remedy when the Appellant alludes to his statement having been brought in involuntarily, is a trial-within-trial procedure, to discern whether or not that statement was obtained involuntarily. Once the Accused/Appellant fails to object at trial court level, then he concedes that the statement was obtained voluntarily, and admitting it becomes the result. Hence there was no basis for his objection, at the Supreme Court.
On the argument of the Appellant, that only a certified true copy of Exhibit 1, being a public document, was admissible and no other kind thereof, the Court held that, the general rule is that, all documents can be proved whether by primary or secondary evidence. The court held that, the fact that Section 105 of the Evidence Act allows certified true copies of public documents or part of it, does not make the primary evidence of the public document inadmissible in evidence. The Court also referred to its decision in EMEKA v CHUBA IKPEAZU & ORS (2017) LPELR – 41920 (SC) 61-65; F-C in which it affirmed the admissibility of original copies of public documents. The Court held that, Exhibit 1 was tendered in its original or primary form, and no objection was raised at the trial by the Appellant on any legal ground, and so, there was no inhibition to the tendering and admission of the statement in evidence.
On the second issue, the court held that, the law is explicit that, generally the guilt of an accused person can be proved either by the confessional statement of the accused person, through circumstantial evidence, or through the evidence of eye witness account of the crime. The Court placed reliance on STEPHEN HARUNA v A-G. OF THE FEDERATION (2012) VOL. 209 LRCN 70 AT 94.
The Court held that to sustain a conviction for armed robbery, the prosecution must prove the factual reality of a robbery, the participation of the accused person in the said robbery, and that at the material time when the offence was being committed, the accused person was either armed with firearms or an offensive weapon, or he was in the company of a person who was so armed. The Court cited BOZIN v STATE (1985) 2 NWLR (PT 8) 465, 467. The Apex Court found that, from the facts elicited in evidence, it was clear that the ingredients of the offence were made out against the Appellant, as required by law. The commission of the offences as charged was also proved against the Appellant, through his voluntary confession, Exhibit 1, and the same was corroborated by PW1, who testified as victim and eye witness and was also an informant to the police.
The Apex Court therefore, held that it had no reason to interfere with the concurrent findings of the trial court and the Court of Appeal.
“......THE APPELLANT'S OBJECTION AFTER TRIAL, OVER THE ADMISSION OF HIS EXTRA- JUDICIAL CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT, RAISING THE FLAG OF TORTURE AND DURESS, IS AN OBJECTION TOO LATE IN THE DAY, SINCE THE REMEDY WHEN THE APPELLANT ALLUDES TO HIS STATEMENT HAVING BEEN BROUGHT IN INVOLUNTARILY, IS A TRIALWITHIN-TRIAL PROCEDURE......”