Mehrauli killing: Experts say Aaftab Poonawala's 'confessions' have no legal validity
Aaftab Poonawala’s reported confessions about killing his live-in partner Shraddha Walkar, including those made before a magistrate through video conference and in polygraph tests, have no conclusive legal validity, say legal experts. Police and other official sources have said Poonawala confessed to the killing and also to dismembering her body into 35 pieces and dumping them in different areas of the city. However, his counsel has denied that he confessed to the murder.
Several legal experts also questioned Poonawala's confession before a magistrate through video conference and termed it objectionable and unprecedented. ''This is an objectionable method of appearance. You do not know under what pressure he was in. He should have been physically present before the magistrate,'' retired Delhi High Court judge Justice R S Sondhi told PTI.
According to the law, experts said, confessions before a magistrate are admissible evidence and benefit police in solving a crime. However, those through video conference and reported in the media do not build any case in favour of the investigating agency as they have no legal validity.
Criminal lawyer Nishant Srivastava, founder and managing partner of Actus Legal, said it is unprecedented that an accused has made a confession through video conference.
''Since the confession was made through video conferencing, tomorrow if the accused alleges that he made the confession because on the other side of the camera, the police had pointed a gun at him, what will the police do?'' During the hearing of extension of Poonawala's remand application on November 22, he told the magistrate through video conferencing that he killed Walkar in the heat of the moment and it was not deliberate, Delhi Police sources said.
Soon after, Poonawala's lawyer Abinash Kumar contradicted the police version and said he never made any such confession before the magistrate.
Criminal lawyer R V Kini, who represented the prosecution in the case of film producer Neeraj Grover who was murdered and chopped into pieces in 2008, stressed on physical appearance before a magistrate and not video conferencing.
''There are several safeguards in the law so the accused is aware of the consequences of his confession. There are provisions to ensure he should get time to think over for a day to make a confession,'' Kini said.
On Wednesday, sources said Poonawala confessed to his crime in a polygraph test conducted at the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Rohini.
Describing narcoanalysis and polygraph tests as ''useless and a waste of time as they have no legal sanctity'', Justice Sondhi said, ''What he did after killing the girl is merely destruction of evidence.'' Delhi Police, he added, is ''wasting its time and enjoying the publicity by leaking such information to the media''.
''His confession has no legal value because at that time he was in police custody. For a legally valid confession, a magistrate should ensure that an accused does it with a free will. The accused should be given time to think and reflect on what he wants to say,'' Justice Sondhi said.
The important thing is the evidence of circumstances that show he killed her. ''The circumstances are such that the chain is complete and police do not leave loose links,'' he said.
Confessions in police custody can become admissible only when a magistrate complies with Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that says the magistrate is duty bound to ensure confession is voluntary, said noted criminal lawyer and former additional solicitor general Sidharth Luthra. Citing a Supreme Court judgment in the Shivappa vs State of Karnataka (1995) case, Luthra said, ''Magistrate is required to put questions to the accused as to the manner he has been treated in police custody and also directly ask the accused why he is making a statement that goes against his self-interest.'' ''It is only when the aforesaid procedure is followed that a confession made by an accused before a magistrate during hearing of a remand application becomes admissible in court,'' he added.
Delhi Police claimed he appeared through video conferencing as there was a safety issue.
On November 28, a police van carrying Poonawala was attacked by some weapon-wielding people outside the FSL where he was taken for polygraph test. Poonawala allegedly strangled Shraddha Walkar in May. He allegedly kept in a 300-litre fridge for almost three weeks at his residence in Mehrauli in south Delhi, before dumping them across the city over several days. He was arrested on November 12 and sent to five-day police custody, which was further extended by five days on November 17. The court on November 26 sent him to judicial custody for 13 days.
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