The voluntary declaration to another person by someone who has committed a crime or misdemeanor in which he admits agency or participation in the same.
When made without bias or improper influence, confessions are admissible in evidence as the highest and most satisfactory proof because it is fairly presumed that no man would make such a confession against himself if the facts confessed were not true. But they are excluded if unfairly obtained.
Confessions should be received with great caution, as they are liable to many objections. There is danger of error from the misapprehension of witnesses, misuse of words, failure of a party to express his own meaning, a prisoner being oppressed by his unfortunate situation and influenced by hope, fear and sometimes a worse motive, to make an untrue confession.
A confession must be made: Voluntarily; By the party himself; To another person.
1. It must be voluntary. A confession forced from the mind by the flattery of hope or the torture of fear, comes in so questionable a shape, when it is to be considered as evidence of guilt, that no credit ought to be given to it. This is the principle, but what amounts to a promise or a threat is not so easily defined. A confession will be considered as voluntarily made, although it was made after a promise of favor or threat of punishment, by a person not in authority over the prisoner. If, however, a person having such authority over him be present at the time and he express no dissent, evidence of such confession cannot be given.
2. The confession must be made by the party to be affected by it. It is evidence only against him. In case of a conspiracy, the acts of one conspirator are the acts of all while active in the progress of the conspiracy, but after it is over, the confession of one as to the part he and others took in the crime is not evidence against any but himself.
3. The confession must be to another person. It may be made to a private individual or under examination before a magistrate. The whole of the confession must be taken, together with whatever conversation took place at the time of the confession.
Confession is also when a prisoner being arraigned for an offence confesses or admits the crime with which he is charged, whereupon the plea of guilty is entered.
Confessions are classed into judicial and extra judicial. Judicial confessions are those made before a magistrate or in court in the due course of legal proceedings; when made freely by the party with a full and perfect knowledge of their nature and consequences, they are sufficient to found a conviction. These confessions are such as are authorized by a statute, as to take a preliminary examination in writing; or they are by putting in the plea of guilty to an indictment. Extra judicial confessions are those which are made by the party elsewhere than before a magistrate or in open court.