Scroll Top

Common Misconception regarding protection against self-incrimination under Article 20(3) of the Indian constitution

Introduction

The Indian Constitution’s Article 20(3)[1] states that:

“No person accused of an offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself”.

In India, the accused enjoys immunity ensured by no less than constitutional provisions of the constitution itself from giving self-incriminating evidence. The assurance provided to the accused in Article 20(3)[2] of the constitution is taken as the off-shoot of the principle of English criminal jurisprudence. “Nemo teneteur process accussare seipsum”, which translates to “No man is obligated to be a witness against himself,” serves as the foundation for this article’s main idea. It states that no one will be forced to testify or produce evidence against them, which could expose the accused to prosecution for a crime, and that the accused must be believed innocent until the contrary is shown.

Since Article 20[3] is a non-derogable right, it can never be suspended in times of emergency.

Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution guarantees the accused the following protections:

In the case of Raja Narayanlal v. M.P. Mistry[4], the Supreme Court explained that this is a right of a person who is “accused of an offence,” meaning that this right is only available to a person to whom a formal accusation relating to the commission of that offence has been levelled and which could ordinarily result in that person’s prosecution and conviction. According to the Supreme Court, everyone whose name appears in a police F.I.R. as an accused person and whose investigation is mandated by a magistrate is covered by Article 20(3).[5]

The Supreme Court referred to it as a safeguard against “compulsion to be a witness” in the M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra case[6], which clarifies that this provision shields the accused from being forced to testify against themselves. Such evidence, which can be an oral or written statement, is not considered evidence if it is obtained under duress.

Only if the accused is forced to testify against themselves and that testimony is likely to support a case against them will they be given the protection under Article 20(3)[7]. Compulsion in this context refers to “duress,” which involves intimidating, abusing, or imprisoning the accused person’s loved ones to coerce them into testifying against themselves. This means this article is only eligible only if the accused was compelled to give evidence that will incriminate them. In the case of Nandini Satpathy v. Dani (P.L. )[8], And Anr goes on to further clarify that the accused is protected by Article 20(3)[9] in the courtroom when he is required to make a statement that could be used against him. He is nevertheless shielded while the case is being investigated by the authorities. This means that throughout a police investigation of the case, the accused is protected under Article 20(3)[10].

Common misconceptions regarding Article 20(3)

The protection under Article 20(3)[11] is only applied during the formal accusation against the accused in the criminal court. It does not apply to a general enquiry of any kind which is an informal accusation against the accused. The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Raja Narayan Lal v. M.P. Mistry[12] that only if there is a formal accusation against the accused in that offence and that evidence can lead to prosecution is it appropriate to invoke the constitutional rights against testimonial evidence under compulsion in Article 20(3)[13]. Furthermore, because there was no formal accusation against the accused at the time of the investigation, the possibility that testimony against the accused during any informal case investigation might ultimately result in the prosecution of the accused in any formal case cannot be taken into account under the protection against self-incrimination.

Again, the court ruled in Veera Ibrahim v. State of Maharashtra[14] that Article 20(3)[15] only applies when the “accused of any offence” provided a compelled statement and the case against the accused is one of formal accusation or any criminal offence.

If the accused intends to exercise his or her constitutional right to self-incrimination, the charge must be made formally, according to these court decisions. One of the most widespread fallacies about the protection from self-incrimination offered by Article 20(3)[16] is that the accused can profit from it for any offence, whether it be criminal or civil, but that this advantage can only be given during a formal accusation.

Another misconception is that obtaining evidence from the accused in any way amounts to compelling the accused to self-incriminate them. The court found that the provisions of section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act do not violate Article 20(3) in the case of the State of Bombay v. Kathi Kalu[17]. After all, a sample’s handwriting or signature, thumbprint, or results of a medical examination ordered by a court cannot be used as evidence under duress because they are only intended for investigative purposes. So this statement explains that if the evidence is obtained without any compulsion it will not invoke Article 20(3)[18] and the evidence must be of such a tendency that producing it will incriminate the accused if they were compelled for it. This means that evidence from the accused, such as thumbprints, samples, handwriting, or medical examinations, to be used as a sample during the investigation, does not amount to incriminating the accused. As a result, the accused cannot be said to be forced to be a witness against himself and receive protection under Article 20(3)[19].

Additionally, it was determined in the case of Yusufalli Esmail Nagree v. The State of Maharashtra[20] that the accused could not rely on Article 20(3)[21] to protect him from the use of a statement he made during a conversation that was secretly recorded and later used as evidence because the accused was not under any duress or coercion and his conversation was voluntary at the time. The only fact the recording was done without his knowledge does not make the evidence inadmissible as evidence. This clarifies that any evidence produced without the knowledge of the accused but without the use of coercion or oppression will be considered admissible in court and will not be in violation of Article 20(3)[22]. It also shows that this restriction does not apply when an accused person’s possession is searched or seized for any object or document. Only when the evidence against the accused was obtained under duress and is it likely to implicate him can the privilege against self-incrimination be used.

Also if the accused voluntarily give any statement or any evidence that can be used to implicate him in court, since that evidence is not taken under any compulsion, therefore, that evidence is admissible against the accused.

This explains that to invoke Article 20(3)[23] the evidence against the accused must be under compulsion, the accusation must be formal and any voluntary evidence against the accused is admissible at the court.

Conclusion

In India, the accused enjoys immunity from self-incrimination by constitutional provisions granted by Article 20(3)[24] of the constitution. The rights afforded to the accused against self-incrimination and for a fair trial have been further clarified in numerous judgments of renowned jurists, and the breadth of the protection provided by Article 20(3)[25] is very fully explained in these judgments. I think these misconceptions happen when the accused desperately wants to be acquitted of their crime by stating that the evidence produced in court against them is violating their right granted by Article 20(3)[26].

Author(s) Name: Himanshu Mishra (St. Mother Teresa Law College, Lucknow (affiliated with Lucknow University)

References:

[1] Constitution of India 1950, art 20(3)

[2] Ibid

[3] Constitution of India 1950, art 20

[4] Raja Narayanlal Bansilal v Maneck Phiroz Mistry And Another (1961) AIR 29

[5] Constitution of India 1950, art 20(3)

[6] M. P. Sharma And Others v Satish Chandra (1954) AIR 300

[7] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[8] Nandini Satpathy v Dani (P.L.) And Anr (1978)  AIR 1025

[9] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Raja Narayanlal Bansilal v Maneck Phiroz Mistry And Another (1961) AIR 29

[13] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[14] Veera Ibrahim v State Of Maharashtra (1976) AIR 1167

[15] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[16] Ibid

[17] The State Of Bombay v Kathi Kalu Oghad And Others (1961) AIR 1808

[18] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[19]Ibid

[20] Yusufalli Esmail Nagree v The State Of Maharashtra (1968) AIR 147

[21] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[22] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[23] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[24] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[25] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)

[26] Constitution of India 1950, art  20(3)