Selvi v. State of Karnataka (2010) 7 SCC 263

Selvi v. State of Karnataka (2010) 7 SCC 263

  • The legal questions in this batch of criminal appeals relate to the involuntary administration of certain scientific techniques, namely narcoanalysis, polygraph examination and the Brain Electrical Activation Profile (BEAP) test for the purpose of improving investigation efforts in criminal cases. This issue involves tensions between the desirability of efficient investigation and the preservation of individual liberties.
  • The involuntary administration of the impugned techniques prompts questions about the protective scope of the `right against self-incrimination\’ which finds place in Article 20(3) of our Constitution. The principal questions are whether this right extends to the investigation stage and whether the test results are of a `testimonial\’ character, thereby attracting the protection of Article 20(3).

Polygraph examination

  • The origins of polygraph examination have been traced back to the efforts of Lombroso, a criminologist who experimented with a machine that measured blood pressure and pulse to assess the honesty of persons suspected of criminal conduct.
  • The theory behind polygraph tests is that when a subject is lying in response to a question, he/she will produce physiological responses that are different from those that arise in the normal course. During the polygraph examination, several instruments are attached to the subject for measuring and recording the physiological responses. The examiner then reads these results, analyzes them and proceeds to gauge the credibility of the subject\’s answers. Instruments such as cardiographs, pneumographs, cardio-cuffs and sensitive electrodes are used in the course of polygraph examinations. They measure changes in aspects such as respiration, blood pressure, blood flow, pulse and galvanic skin resistance. The truthfulness or falsity on part of the subject is assessed by relying on the records of the physiological responses.

Narco-analysis technique

This test involves the intravenous administration of a drug that causes the subject to enter into a hypnotic trance and become less inhibited. The drug-induced hypnotic stage is useful for investigators since it makes the subject more likely to divulge information. The drug used for this test is sodium pentothal, higher quantities of which are routinely used for inducing general anaesthesia in surgical procedures.

With the advent of anaesthesia about a century ago, it was observed that during the induction period and particularly during the recovery interval, patients were prone to make extremely naive remarks about personal matters, which, in their normal state, would never have revealed.

Dr. Robert E. House, an observant physician practising in Ferris, Texas, believed that a drug combination which was so effective in the removal of ordinary restraints and which produced such utter candor, might be of value in obtaining factual information from persons who were thought to be lying.

  • This technique can serve several ends. The revelations could help investigators to uncover vital evidence or to corroborate pre-existing testimonies and prosecution theories. Narcoanalysis tests have also been used to detect `malingering\’ (faking of amnesia). The premise is that during the `hypnotic stage\’ the subject is unable to wilfully suppress the memories associated with the relevant facts. Thus, it has been urged that drug-induced revelations can help to narrow down investigation efforts, thereby saving public resources. There is of course a very real possibility that information extracted through such interviews can lead to the uncovering of independent evidence which may be relevant. Hence, we must consider the implications of such derivative use of the drug- induced revelations, even if such revelations are not admissible as evidence. Narcoanalysis tests could be requested by defendants who want to prove their innocence. Demands for this test could also be made for purposes such as gauging the credibility of testimony, to refresh the memory of witnesses or to ascertain the mental capacity of persons to stand trial. Such uses can have a direct impact on the efficiency of investigations as well as the fairness of criminal trials.
  • While there is a requirement of formal accusation for a person to invoke Article 20(3) it must be noted that the protection contemplated by Section 161(2), CrPC is wider. Section 161(2) read with 161(1) protects `any person supposed to be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case\’ in the course of examination by the police.

Section 161: (1): Any police officer making an investigation under this Chapter may examine orally any person supposed to be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case. (2) Such person shall be bound to answer truly all questions relating to such case put to him by such officer, other than questions the answers to which would have a tendency to expose him to a criminal charge or to a penalty or forfeiture.

Therefore the `right against self-incrimination\’ protects persons who have been formally accused as well as those who are examined as suspects in criminal cases. It also extends to cover witnesses who apprehend that their answers could expose them to criminal charges in the ongoing investigation or even in cases other than the one being investigated. Krishna Iyer, J. clarified this position, (1978):

\”The learned Advocate General, influenced by American decisions rightly agreed that in expression Section 161(2) of the Code might cover not merely accusations already registered in police stations but those which are likely to be the basis for exposing a person to a criminal charge.

Indeed, this wider construction, if applicable to Article 20(3), approximates the constitutional clause to the explicit statement of the prohibition in Section 161(2). This latter provision meaningfully uses the expression `expose himself to a criminal charge\’. Obviously, these words mean, not only cases where the person is already exposed to a criminal charge but also instances which will imminently expose him to criminal charges.\”

It was further observed:

\”… `To be a witness against oneself\’ is not confined to the particular offence regarding which the questioning is made but extends to other offences about which the accused has reasonable apprehension of implication from his answer. This conclusion also flows from `tendency to be exposed to a criminal charge\’. A `criminal charge\’ covers any criminal charge then under investigation or trial or which imminently threatens the accused.\”

  • Even though Section 161(2) of the CrPC casts a wide protective net to protect the formally accused persons as well as suspects and witnesses during the investigative stage, Section 132of the Evidence Act limits the applicability of this protection to witnesses during the trial stage. The latter provision provides that witnesses cannot refuse to answer questions during a trial on the ground that the answers could incriminate them. However, the proviso to this section stipulates that the content of such answers cannot expose the witness to arrest or prosecution, except for a prosecution for giving false evidence. Therefore, the protection accorded to witnesses at the stage of trial is not as wide as the one accorded to the accused, suspects and witnesses during investigation [under Section 161(2), CrPC]. Furthermore, it is narrower than the protection given to the accused during the trial stage [under Section 313(3) and Proviso (b) to Section 315(1), CrPC]. The legislative intent is to preserve the fact- finding function of a criminal trial.
  • Since the extension of the `right against self- incrimination\’ to suspects and witnesses has its basis in Section 161(2), CrPC it is not readily available to persons who are examined during proceedings that are not governed by the code. There is a distinction between proceedings of a purely criminal nature and those proceedings which can culminate in punitive remedies and yet cannot be characterised as criminal proceedings. The consistent position has been that ordinarily Article 20(3) cannot be invoked by witnesses during proceedings that cannot be characterised as criminal proceedings. In administrative and quasi-criminal proceedings, the protection of Article 20(3) becomes available only after a person has been formally accused of committing an offence.

What constitutes `incrimination\’ for the purpose of Article 20(3)?

We can now examine the various circumstances that could `expose a person to criminal charges\’. The scenario under consideration is one where a person in custody is compelled to reveal information which aids the investigation efforts. The information so revealed can prove to be incriminatory in the following ways:

  • The statements made in custody could be directly relied upon by the prosecution to strengthen their case. However, if it is shown that such statements were made under circumstances of compulsion, they will be excluded from the evidence.
  • Another possibility is that of `derivative use\’, i.e. when information revealed during questioning leads to the discovery of independent materials, thereby furnishing a link in the chain of evidence gathered by the investigators.
  • Yet another possibility is that of `transactional use\’, i.e. when the information revealed can prove to be helpful for the investigation and prosecution in cases other than the one being investigated.
  • A common practice is that of extracting materials or information, which are then compared with materials that are already in the possession of the investigators. For instance, handwriting samples and specimen signatures are routinely obtained for the purpose of identification or corroboration.
  • We have already referred to the language of Section 161, CrPC which protects the accused as well as suspects and witnesses who are examined during the course of investigation in a criminal case. It would also be useful to refer to Sections 162, 163 and 164 of the CrPC which lay down procedural safeguards in respect of statements made by persons during the course of investigation. However, Section 27 of the Evidence Act incorporates the `theory of confirmation by subsequent facts\’ – i.e. statements made in custody are admissible to the extent that they can be proved by the subsequent discovery of facts. It is quite possible that the content of the custodial statements could directly lead to subsequent discovery of relevant facts rather than their discovery through independent means. Hence such statements could also be described as those which `furnish a link in the chain of evidence\’ needed for a successful prosecution.
  • This provision permits the derivative use of custodial statements in the ordinary course of events. In Indian law, there is no automatic presumption that the custodial statements have been extracted through compulsion. In short, there is no requirement of additional diligence akin to the administration of Miranda warnings. However, in circumstances where it is shown that a person was indeed compelled to make statements while in custody, relying on such testimony as well as its derivative use will offend Article 20(3). The relationship between Section 27 of the Evidence Act and Article 20(3) of the Constitution was clarified in Kathi Kalu Oghad.
  • The minority opinion also agreed with the majority\’s conclusion on this point since Das Gupta, J., held at p. 47:

\”Section 27 provides that when any fact is deposed to as discovered in consequence of information received from a person accused of any offence, in the custody of a police officer, so much of the information, whether it amounts to a confession or not, as relates distinctly to the fact thereby discovered, may be proved. It cannot be disputed that by giving such information the accused furnishes evidence, and therefore is a `witness\’ during the investigation. Unless, however he is `compelled\’ to give the information he cannot be said to be `compelled\’ to be a witness; and so Article 20(3) is not infringed. Compulsion is not however inherent in the receipt of information from an accused person in the custody of a police officer. There may be cases where an accused in custody is compelled to give the information later on sought to be proved under s. 27. There will be other cases where the accused gives the information without any compulsion. Where the accused is compelled to give  information it will be an infringement of Art. 20(3); but there is no such infringement where he gives the information without any compulsion. …\”

Since the majority decision in Kathi Kalu Oghad is the controlling precedent, it will be useful to re- state the two main premises for understanding the scope of `testimonial compulsion\’. The first is that ordinarily it is the oral or written statements which convey the personal knowledge of a person in respect of relevant facts that amount to `personal testimony\’ thereby coming within the prohibition contemplated by Article 20(3). In most cases, such `personal testimony\’ can be readily distinguished from material evidence such as bodily substances and other physical objects. The second premise is that in some cases, oral or written statements can be relied upon but only for the purpose of identification or comparison with facts and materials that are already in the possession of the investigators. The bar of Article 20(3) can be invoked when the statements are likely to lead to incrimination by themselves or `furnish a link in the chain of evidence\’ needed to do so.

We must emphasize that a situation where a testimonial response is used for comparison with facts already known to investigators is inherently different from a situation where a testimonial response helps the investigators to subsequently discover fresh facts or materials that could be relevant to the ongoing investigation.

It is undeniable that during a narcoanalysis interview, the test subject does lose `awareness of place and passing of time\’. It is also quite evident that all the three impugned techniques can be described as methods of interrogation which impair the test subject\’s `capacity of decision or judgment\’. Going by the language of these principles, we hold that the compulsory administration of the impugned techniques constitutes `cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment\’ in the context of Article 21.

It must be remembered that the law disapproves of involuntary testimony, irrespective of the nature and degree of coercion, threats, fraud or inducement used to elicit the same.

  • In our considered opinion, compulsory administration of the impugned techniques violates the `right against self- incrimination\’. This is because the underlying rationale of the said right is to ensure the reliability as well as voluntariness of statements that are admitted as evidence. This Court has recognised that the protective scope of Article 20(3) extends to the investigative stage in criminal cases and when read with Section 161(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure it protects accused persons, suspects as well as witnesses who are examined during an investigation. The test results cannot be admitted in evidence if they have been obtained through the use of compulsion. Article 20(3) protects an individual\’s choice between speaking and remaining silent, irrespective of whether the subsequent testimony proves to be inculpatory or exculpatory. Article 20(3) aims to prevent the forcible `conveyance of personal knowledge that is relevant to the facts in issue\’. The results obtained from each of the impugned tests bear a `testimonial\’ character and they cannot be categorised as material evidence.
  • We are also of the view that forcing an individual to undergo any of the impugned techniques violates the standard of `substantive due process\’ which is required for restraining personal liberty. The impugned techniques cannot be read into the statutory provisions which enable medical examination during investigation in criminal cases, i.e. the Explanation to Sections 53, 53-A and 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

We have also elaborated how the compulsory administration of any of these techniques is an unjustified intrusion into the mental privacy of an individual. It would also amount to `cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment\’ with regard to the language of evolving international human rights norms. Furthermore, placing reliance on the results gathered from these techniques comes into conflict with the `right to fair trial\’. Invocations of a compelling public interest cannot justify the dilution of constitutional rights such as the `right against self-incrimination\’.

In light of these conclusions, we hold that no individual should be forcibly subjected to any of the techniques in question, whether in the context of investigation in criminal cases or otherwise. Doing so would amount to an unwarranted intrusion into personal liberty.

However, we do leave room for the voluntary administration of the impugned techniques in the context of criminal justice, provided that certain safeguards are in place. Even when the subject has given consent to undergo any of these tests, the test results by themselves cannot be admitted as evidence because the subject does not exercise conscious control over the responses during the administration of the test.

However, any information or material that is subsequently discovered with the help of voluntary administered test results can be admitted, in accordance with Section 27 of the Evidence Act, 1872.

The National Human Rights Commission had published `Guidelines for the Administration of Polygraph Test (Lie Detector Test) on an Accused\’ in 2000. These guidelines should be strictly adhered to and similar safeguards should be adopted for conducting the `Narcoanalysis technique\’ and the `Brain Electrical Activation Profile\’ test. The text of these guidelines has been reproduced below:

(i) No Lie Detector Tests should be administered except on the basis of consent of the accused. An option should be given to the accused whether he wishes to avail such test.

(ii) If the accused volunteers for a Lie Detector Test, he should be given access to a lawyer and the physical, emotional and legal implication of such a test should be explained to him by the police and his lawyer.

(iv) During the hearing before the Magistrate, the person alleged to have agreed should be duly represented by a lawyer.

(v) At the hearing, the person in question should also be told in clear terms that the statement that is made shall not be a `confessional\’ statement to the Magistrate but will have the status of a statement made to the police.

(vi) The Magistrate shall consider all factors relating to the detention including the length of detention and the nature of the interrogation.

(vii) The actual recording of the Lie Detector Test shall be done by an independent agency (such as a hospital) and conducted in the presence of a lawyer.

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