Due to the significant power imbalance that exists between an accused individual and law enforcement, there are very strict rules related to the admissibility of admissions and confession evidence given by the accused to law enforcement. Admission evidence and confession evidence are two different and distinct types of evidence.
What is Admissions Evidence?
In criminal proceedings, there are two types of formal admissions: guilty pleas and admissions made by the defence during trial pursuant to section 655 of the Criminal Code. There are also informal admissions.
A formal admission must be made to a person in a position of authority, typically a judge. An informal admission can be made to virtually anyone, it need not be made to a person in a position of authority.
A guilty plea is a formal admission by the accused that they committed the offence as charged. The accused may also plead guilty to any other offence arising out of the same transaction, pursuant to section 606(4) of the Code. This type of admission will result in a finding of guilt for the accused. When an accused person pleads guilty, they are admitting to each element of the offence. They are also admitting that the Crown possesses enough evidence to convict them of the offence.
The second type of formal admission is an admission pursuant to section 655 of the Code. The section stipulates that in situations where an accused is on trial for an indictable offence, they or their counsel may admit certain facts of the case. Once a section 655 admission is made, the Crown is no longer required to prove that particular fact beyond a reasonable doubt.
Person A is on trial for murder after getting into a violent altercation with an intruder. In any criminal matter, the Crown must prove that the accused is the perpetrator. Person A may admit to being the perpetrator, as their defence to the killing is self-defence.
The Crown may also introduce evidence of informal admissions made by an accused. These admissions are usually informal statements made by the accused to another person and can be in writing or oral statements. Informal admissions can also be adopted admissions, where the accused adopts the statement of another person, or an admission by conduct which is an admission that can be inferred from the conduct of the accused.
What is Confession Evidence?
Confession evidence is statements of the accused, either oral or in writing, provided to a person in a position of authority. These statements may be introduced into evidence to assist the Crown in proving their case.
The Court must be satisfied that the confession is reliable, truthful, and accurate before admitting it as evidence. To help make this determination the court will often conduct what is known as a voir dire. This means the court will ask questions about the evidence to be admitted to ensure it was provided voluntarily. The judge will analyse the events leading up to the confession as well as the circumstances at the time the confession was provided.
Where the accused was forced or coerced in some way to provide the statement, it will not be admissible as evidence as it cannot be considered reliable.
Are Admissions and Confessions Admissible as Evidence in Court?
Whether or not an admission or confession will be admissible as evidence against the accused will depend on many different factors including the general rules of evidence. Formal admissions are presumptively admissible as they are authorized by law. Informal admissions and confessions are admissible in certain circumstances.
Formal admissions are presumptively admissible as they are authorized by law either by way of a guilty plea or section 655 of the Code. Informal admissions evidence is also admissible against the accused. These types of admissions are considered an exception to the hearsay rule, so they are not barred from being introduced into evidence.
Confessions made by an accused to a person in a position of authority, usually law enforcement, are admissible against the accused where the Crown can prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the confession was made voluntarily.
The judge presiding over the case will conduct an analysis to determine whether the confession can be admitted into evidence. Where making this determination, the judge will consider whether there were any promises or threats to the accused prior to or during the confession. The judge will also consider whether the accused was suffering from oppression which may include being denied food, water, clothing, sleep, medical attention, denying the accused their right to counsel, excessively lengthy or aggressive questioning, and using evidence that does not exist to elicit a confession.
The court will also consider whether the police attempted to trick the accused in any way. It is important to note that not all dishonesty or pressure to provide a statement will render a confession involuntary. Finally, for a confession to be admissible as evidence it must have been the product of an ‘operating mind’. To have an operating mind, the accused must have some degree of cognitive ability. An accused may not have an operating mind where they have suffered a blow to the head or where they are extremely intoxicated.
Person A is arrested on suspicion of murder and brought to the police station for questioning. Person A is locked in a small room without access to food or water for more than 10 hours while being questioned by police. Police are very aggressive when questioning person A, indicating they will not be permitted to leave the room until they have admitted to the murder.
After 12 hours of continuous, aggressive interrogation, person A signs a confession admitting to the murder. At trial, defence counsel seeks to exclude the confession on the grounds that the accused was suffering from oppression at the hand of officers at the time the confession was made. The reliability of the confession is therefore called into question.
More Legal Information
In criminal cases, there are very strict rules governing what evidence can be used and how it can be used.
The rights enjoyed of all those within Canada are contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Criminal procedure is the process by which an accused person is arrested and brought through the justice system.
Sentencing refers to the punishment that is ordered when an individual is found guilty of a criminal offence.