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Consciousness of guilt, lies and flight

To top [2-950] Introduction

The Crown can rely upon the accused’s post-offence conduct as evidence of a consciousness of guilt. This will usually be in the form of a lie (either in or out of court) or flight (absconding to avoid arrest or trial). But it can include other forms of conduct: McKey v R [2012] NSWCCA 1; see Pollard v R (2011) 207 A Crim R 124, where the evidence of the accused hiding his mobile phone was admitted on this basis. Such evidence will generally be part of a Crown’s circumstantial case or evidence supporting direct evidence such as an admission.

To top [2-955] Lies

Care is necessary when the issue of lies arises: R v Ray (2003) 57 NSWLR 616 at [98]; Healey v R [2008] NSWCCA 229 at [43]. It is important to distinguish between lies being used to attack the credit of the accused and lies being used as evidence of guilt, and the Crown should make it clear what use it is seeking to make of an allegation that the accused lied: R v GJH (2001) 122 A Crim R 361. Where the issue is one of credit, the jury should not usually be directed as to consciousness of guilt: see Zoneff v The Queen (2000) 200 CLR 234 at [14]–[17]. It is not always necessary for a judge to give a direction on lies: Dhanhoa v The Queen (2003) 217 CLR 1. It may be necessary for the judge to warn the jury against using lies as evidence of guilt because of the conduct of the Crown in cross-examination or addresses: McKey at [26]ff. Generally, the Crown will not have to prove the evidence beyond reasonable doubt unless the lie is being relied upon as an implied admission: Edwards v The Queen (1993) 178 CLR 193 at 201, 210–211; R v Adam (1999) 106 A Crim R 510 at [55].

As to the use of lies to prove a consciousness of guilt: see generally: Edwards at 210; R v Lane [2011] NSWCCA 157. As to the inappropriate use of lies as evidence of guilt: see R v ST (1997) 92 A Crim R 390.

See generally Criminal Practice and Procedure NSW at [2-s 161.62].

To top [2-960] Flight

Evidence that the accused fled from a place to avoid arrest or trial can be admitted as evidence of consciousness of guilt in a similar way to the use of a lie. The suggested directions at [2-965] concerning the use of lies can be adapted. The most significant direction is that the jury must be satisfied that the accused fled because of a consciousness of guilt of the offence for which he or she stands charged and not for some other unrelated reason.

As to the admission of evidence of flight: see generally R v Adam; R v Cook [2004] NSWCCA 52 (where the evidence was wrongly admitted) but compare Quinlan v R (2006) 164 A Crim R 106 and Steer v R (2008) 191 A Crim R 435 (where the evidence was correctly admitted). As to the need for a direction to meet a specific case: see for example, Steer v R].

See generally Criminal Practice and Procedure NSW at [2-s 161.62].

To top [2-965] Suggested direction — lies used as evidence of a consciousness of guilt

The direction should be tailored to the circumstances of each case. It is essential that the alleged lie (or lies) is precisely identified in the summing-up. The suggested direction may need to be adapted in accordance with Steer.

The next direction I must give you concerns the evidence of [the accused] saying [set out evidence of accused’s statement that the Crown alleges amounts to a lie]. The Crown says that this was a lie because [set out evidence that is capable of establishing that the statement was a lie].

First, you must be clear about what a lie is. A lie is to say something untrue, knowing at the time of making the statement that it is untrue. If a person says something which is untrue, but does not realise at the time that it is untrue, then that is not a lie. The person is simply mistaken or perhaps confused. Even if the person later comes to realise that what [he/she] said was incorrect, that does not transform the statement into a lie. To be a lie, the person must say something that the person knows, at the time of making the statement, is untrue.

If you find that [the accused] made the statement I have just referred to, and you find it was a lie, then I must give you a direction about the care with which you must approach the task of deciding what significance, if any, it has. You may take this lie into account as evidence of [the accused’s] guilt but you can only do that if you find two further things which I will refer to shortly. When I say you can take it into account as evidence of [the accused’s] guilt, I am not suggesting that it could prove [his/her] guilt on its own. What I mean is that it can be considered along with all of the other facts that the Crown relies upon and which you find established on the evidence in considering whether the Crown has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. The Crown does not suggest that if you found [the accused] told a lie that this finding can prove the guilt of [the accused] by itself.

Apart from the fact that [the accused] made the statement and that it amounted to a deliberate lie, before you can use the lie as some evidence of [the accused’s] guilt you must find two further matters proved.

First, you must find that what [the accused] said that amounts to a lie relates to an issue that is relevant to the offence the Crown alleges that [the accused] committed. It must relate to some significant circumstance or event connected with that alleged offence. The Crown says it is relevant because [set out Crown case on this issue].

Second, you must find that the reason [the accused] told this lie is because [he/she] feared that telling the truth might reveal [his/her] guilt in respect of the charge [he/she] now faces. In other words, [he/she] feared that telling the truth would implicate [him/her] in the commission of the offence for which [he/she] is now on trial. The Crown says you would be satisfied of that because [set out Crown case on this issue].

You must remember, however, that people do not always act rationally, and that conduct of this sort, that is, telling a lie, may sometimes be explained in other ways. A person may have a reason for lying quite apart from trying to conceal [his/her] guilt. For example, a lie may be told out of panic; to escape an unjust accusation; to protect some other person; or to avoid a consequence unrelated to the offence. [It is dangerous to give too many examples for the reasons stated in R v Jeffrey (1991) 60 A Crim R 384.]

If you think that the lie may have been told for some reason other than to avoid being implicated in the commission of the offence for which [the accused] is now on trial, then it cannot be used as evidence of [the accused’s] guilt. If that is the case, you should put it to one side and focus your deliberations upon the other evidence in the case.

Let me summarise what I have just said. Before you can use what [the accused] said as something which points towards [his/her] guilt, you must be satisfied that [he/she] lied deliberately. You must find that the lie related to some significant circumstance or event connected with the alleged offence. You must find that the reason [the accused] told this lie was because [he/she] feared that the truth would implicate [him/her] in relation to the commission of the offence for which [he/she] is now on trial.

The defence case in relation to this issue is [set out the defence response in detail appropriate to the circumstances of the case].

To top [2-970] Suggested direction from Zoneff v The Queen — limiting the use of lies to credit

If the prosecution has not suggested that the accused told lies because he or she knew the truth would implicate him or her in the commission of the offence, there may nevertheless be risk of misunderstanding on the part of the jury about the significance of possible lies. The suggested direction below takes account of Zoneff v The Queen at [23].

You have heard it suggested that [the accused] lied.

[Refer to the evidence said to constitute lie(s).]

Whether [the accused] did in fact lie is a matter for you to decide. To decide that a lie was (or lies were) told, you must be satisfied that [the accused] said something that was untrue and that at the time of making the statement, [he/she] knew that it was untrue. Saying something that is untrue by mistake, or out of confusion or forgetfulness, is not a lie.

If you decide that a lie was (or lies were) told, you cannot use that fact in support of a conclusion that [the accused] is guilty. A lie cannot prove [the accused’s] guilt and nor can a lie be used in conjunction with the other evidence that the Crown relies upon to prove [the accused’s] guilt.

The only use you can make of the fact that [the accused] told a lie (or lies) is in your assessment of [his/her] credibility. If you are satisfied that [he/she] did lie, then that may be considered by you as having a bearing upon whether you believe the other things that [he/she] has said.

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