Police and the state in general, are empowered to conduct investigations in a bid to solve crime and bring criminals to book. Indeed, members of the public are required to comply with summons requiring their attendance at police stations for the purpose of investigations. Tellingly, failure to honour requisitions for attendance at police stations without a plausible excuse is an offence. Similarly, showing up at a police station and refusing to respond to the questions that may be legitimately asked or untruthfully responding to them amounts to an offence. However, a person is under no obligation to respond to questions that may tend to expose him/her to a criminal charge or penalty. This exemption springs from the constitutional right to refuse to give self-incriminating evidence afforded to a person involved in a criminal inquiry.
Crucially, a police officer who seeks to record a statement from a person against whom a criminal charge may be preferred or who is already facing a criminal charge MUST WARN such a person that the statement they will make may be used as evidence against them. If such a person forfeits their right to remain silent after being warned and moves on to record a statement, then any admissions they make in their statement may be legally used against them in a criminal trial. Although admissions need not be given voluntarily as the Supreme Court observed, confessions, on the other hand, MUST be procured through express consent from the person providing it. To this end, it must be appreciated that despite all confessions being admissions, not all admissions are confessions. The difference lies in the effect either of the two would have in a criminal case.
A confession would automatically return a guilty verdict because it is an express and explicit acknowledgement of guilt by an accused person. Further, there are strict rules to be followed in order for a confession made in a police station to be accepted in court. Conversely, an admission is an acknowledgement by an accused person of a matter (s) relevant to a criminal charge, which may give the impression that the accused is guilty. Since an admission only insinuates that the accused is guilty, it cannot, by itself, be used to render a conviction; other evidence is hence required to support an admission. Therefore, it follows that an incriminating revelation made voluntarily by a suspect or accused person to police officers in the course of investigations would be treated as an admission if such a revelation is not recorded in strict compliance with the Evidence Act so as to be regarded as a confession under law. This position, which was reiterated by the Supreme Court, is an effort to strike a balance between the rights of persons under a criminal inquiry, and the rights of the public to peace and security . So that, the constitutional mandate of security agencies to maintain/restore peace and security is not hampered by the rights of persons under criminal inquiry, and vice versa.
Way forward: It is best for any person subjected to police investigations, who fears that the information they may disclose will cast them in the bad light of being viewed as the culprits, to choose to remain silent on that aspect.
Prepared by Ochwaya E. Sudi
Advocate of the High Court of Kenya