Inadmissible Evidence

– Tanishka Khokhar, Salwan Public School

In simpler terms, evidence that cannot be considered or presented to the jury or the judge is defined as ‘inadmissible evidence’. Largely, the evidence must be relevant to the case to be considered admissible. As per the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Admissibility and receivability are not clearly distinguished. It is common for irrelevant evidence,[sic] or evidence of an immaterial fact to be described as “inadmissible”. What this means is that the court will refuse to receive evidence if it is irrelevant or immaterial. But, importantly, the court also excludes evidence for reasons other than irrelevance and immateriality.”

Thus, broadly, for evidence to be considered ‘admissible’, it must be:
(i) Relevant to the case;
(ii) Not hearsay;
(iii) Retrieved in a legally approved manner;

(iv) Must not be overly prejudicial;

(v) Reliable.

For evidence to be considered admissible, the conditions vary depending on the nature of the evidence. For instance, in the case of an eyewitness, groundwork must be laid to provide for the integrity and reliability of the witness. A guide prepared by the US Department of Justice issued specifically on eyewitness evidence stated, “Eyewitnesses frequently play a vital role in uncovering the truth about a crime. The evidence they provide can be critical in identifying, charging, and ultimately convicting suspected criminals. That is why it is absolutely essential that eyewitness evidence be accurate and reliable.”

The sensitivity towards eyewitness evidence must be extreme, for if not credible, it may change the entire course of a case. Let’s take the example of Eric Clemmons, a black inmate in the United States of America on death row for stabbing another inmate which eventually led to his death. The Death Penalty Information Center, a reputed non-profit focused on cases involving death penalty, reported that the entire case was built upon the testimony of a corrections officer which was later deemed incorrect upon the statements of numerous prisoners claiming that Clemmons had, in fact, not committed the murder and it was in actuality committed by another prisoner who had died only three months after the crime.

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Such happenings are more common than one may presume, and hence, it is essential to ensure that the evidence presented is credible, no matter in what form. However, what constitutes inadmissible evidence in every country may differ. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution covers the “exclusionary rule” which does not accept any evidence obtained through improper means by the federal government, establishing the difference between a “search” and a “seizure”. On the other hand, the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, as per Legal Service India states, “Admissibility means that only the facts which are relevant are admissible in the court of Law. Section 136 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 explains which all evidence are admissible. Section 136 states that the it[sic] is the discretion of the Judge to decide whether an evidence is admissible or not. The presiding officer may ask the party to clarify how the particular fact or evidence is relevant under the provisions Section 6 to 55 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 if the relevance of the evidence is not convincing.

So, technically the question of relevance comes first and then the question of admissibility. The presiding officer has the full power in deciding whether an evidence[sic] is admissible or not in a particular case.”

To further elaborate on the term ‘inadmissible evidence’, consider the case of R. v. Khelawon. Initially, on the basis of the hearsay evidence and its striking relation to other statements, the trial judge charged the accused of the offences. However, upon an appeal, as reported, “a majority of the Court of Appeal excluded all of the hearsay statements and acquitted the accused on all charges.  The dissenting judge would have upheld the convictions in respect of S.  The Crown appealed as of right from the acquittals in respect of S and was denied leave to appeal from the acquittals in respect of D.”

However, it is not only the components of inadmissible evidence but rather the meaning of the term which may differ based upon each country’s judicial system as well. What may be considered hearsay evidence under one judicial system may be entirely inapplicable under another.

For instance, Amnesty International prepared a 56-page document on the dismissal or specifically, the “inadequate address of torture and other ill-treatment” in China. They conducted a large report and interviewed 37 ‘lawyers and legal practitioners’ and concluded, “The lawyers described their own experiences when trying to carry out their work and the difficulties they often faced in raising claims of torture and other ill-treatment, getting these claims heard, and ultimately achieving justice for their clients. They often expressed their frustration with the system they feel is not adequately addressing torture and implementing existing prohibitions. Many related stories of torture their clients suffered in detention centres and unofficial detention facilities including black jails – torture and other ill-treatment often at the hands of police or the procuratorate or other detainees on orders of officials.”

Through its report ‘No End in Sight’, Amnesty International further stated, “…criminal justice reforms hailed as human rights advances by the Chinese government have in reality done little to change the deep-rooted practice of torturing suspects to extract forced confessions. Attempts by defence lawyers to raise or investigate torture claims continue to be systematically thwarted by police, prosecutors and the courts.”

On the same front, Article 14 reports India’s take on confessions through torture, “The law in India does not permit any confession based on ‘inducement, threat or promise’ to be used in criminal proceedings. The law also makes any confession to the police inadmissible in criminal trials. These provisions are meant to be safeguards against police torture.”

Now, let us go back to the components that constitute inadmissible evidence. One of the most spoken of is evidence that has not been gathered in a legally approved manner, or in simpler terms, illegally. The question that comes into play is, “Should evidence, regardless of how it has been retrieved, for as long as it remains relevant and reliable, be considered in the court?”

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This again differs depending upon the judicial systems of different countries. For instance, the US Constitution concludes evidence obtained illegally is inadmissible in a court of law. It is covered under the “fruit of the poison tree” doctrine, as further described by the Law Information Institute at the Cornell Law School, “As the metaphor suggests, if the evidential ‘tree’ is tainted, so is its ‘fruit.’ The doctrine was established in 1920 by the decision in Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, and the phrase ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ was coined by Justice Frankfurter in his 1939 opinion in Nardone v. United States.”

However, the case is different when it comes to India. For example, in the case of State of Maharashtra vs Natwarlal Damodardas Soni, the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Police broke into Soni’s house in 1979 in search of smuggled gold when only his wife and mother were present. Although no legal validation was given to the authorities to raid Soni’s house, the court charged him with the offences. Further on, despite the High Court taking into consideration Soni’s appeal, his argument that the search was not warranted was rejected due to the belief that the police had the authority to “search and seize the gold”, particularly due to the fact that the authorities had proof to believe that the crime had been committed. This judgment created a distinction between admission of evidence on the basis of its validity regardless of whether it has been obtained through illegal means or methods.

On the flip side, in the case of State of Punjab vs Baldev Singh, it was declared that evidence obtained through unduly means in violation of a statute will not be considered admissible in the court. In particular, to the case mentioned, Section 50 of the NDPS Act was violated.

Hereby, India has not completely adopted the full provisions that come into effect along with the right to privacy of an individual, such as declaring all illegally obtained evidence as inadmissible. In such cases, there is often a violation of the individual’s privacy which is not taken into account, given the weight of the evidence.

Hence, it brings us to question whether the right to privacy of a citizen is truly advantageous to him when he cannot fully benefit from it with the restrictions and the exceptions being put in place. If the same authorities that must acknowledge it are the ones failing to comply with its terms, to what extent is the privacy of an individual ensured?

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