Property of person who died during the pendency of trial cannot be attached

Supreme Court: Holding that the property of a person who died during pendency of trial for misappropriation could not be attached by the State under Clause 3 of the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance of 1944, the bench comprising of  S.A. Bobde and Amitava Roy JJ, set aside the orders of attachment and held the findings recorded by Learned Single Judge of High Court to be perverse.

The deceased Ramachandraiah, who was the husband of Appellant No. 1, and father of Appellant No. 2 and 3, was prosecuted along with one co-accused for misappropriation of property under Sections 409 and 468 read with Section 471 of the Penal Code, 1860. Subsequent to his death awaiting trial, his co-accused was acquitted of guilt, but the Trial Court adduced from the material on record that Ramchandraiah was solely responsible for the alleged crimes, although beyond the pale of adjudication. Thereafter the State sought to attach the property of the deceased via application under the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 1944, in which interim attachment was granted by the District Judge under Clause 4, and later made absolute. This attachment was contested by Appellant under Section 482 of the CrPC, failing which Appeal was made to this Court.

The Court held that while Clause 4  allowed attachment pending conviction, Clause 3 of the aforesaid amendment required the Government to make application for attachment to the District Judge of the place of habitual residence or business, which required the focal person to be in existence. Further, if the orders of attachment were to cease operating upon acquittal, the same must occur if prosecution abates, or conviction is rendered impossible by death of the person whose property is sought to be attached. The oft-reiterated concept of presumption of innocence till proven guilty was reiterated again.

The Court signified a ‘gross miscarriage of justice’ had occurred at various stages. Firstly, a fortiori, criminal proceedings may not continue against a deceased who does not exist and cannot be convicted. Secondly, the finding that the deceased accused alone was responsible for the crime was null and void. Lastly, such a conviction could not be the basis of an attachment proceeding.[U. Subhadramma v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 654, decided on 04-07-2016]

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