Bom HC | Can a person be held liable under S. 302 IPC on the basis of ‘last seen’ theory and not being able to offer sufficient explanation? Significance of ‘last seen’ theory in establishing homicidal nature of death discussed

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Sadhana S. Jadhav and N.J. Jamadar, JJ., while addressing the present matter, expressed that:

Where the prosecution succeeds in discharging its primary burden and brings evidence on record which indicates that the facts, thereby proved, rest within the special knowledge of the accused, Section 106 of the Evidence Act comes into play.

Suspicion, however strong, cannot take the place of proof.

Factual Matrix

Accused-Appellant has challenged the decision of the Additional Sessions Judge, wherein he was convicted for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the Penal Code, 1860 for having committed the murder of his wife Sunita (the deceased).

The accused harassed and ill-treated the deceased on suspecting fidelity of the deceased. The deceased and accused shifted to Beghar Vasti wherein they erected a temporary shed adjacent to the house of the first informant. Later the accused and deceased desired to erect a shed with a thatched roof.

To erect the shed with a thatched roof, both the accused and deceased went to the field in order to collect a wooden log. The first informant also went to the fieLd to graze the goats, wherein he saw that the deceased was lying near a mango tree and her clothes were stained with blood. However, first informant did not find the accused in the vicinity of the said spot. Thus, he suspected that the accused to have done so, after which he lodged a report.

 During the investigation, it was found that the deceased was carrying six months pregnancy and the said occurrence resulted in the death of quick unborn child as well. The accused came to be arrested.

Additional Sessions Judge framed charge against the accused of the offences punishable under Sections 302 and 316 of the IPC.

After the trial, offence for Section 316 IPC was not established against the accused, though he came to be convicted under Section 302 IPC.

Aggrieved with the above, present appeal was preferred.

Analysis and Decision

Bench noted that the fact that the accused did not offer any explanation regarding the circumstances in which he parted the company with the deceased and how the deceased sustained those fatal injuries weighed with the Additional Sessions, Judge.

In the context of the marital relationship between the deceased and the accused and the indisputable fact that they were residing at Khatgun along with the first informant, the “last seen theory” constitutes the linchpin of the prosecution case. 

Court added that the fact that the deceased was found beneath the mango tree in the said field, within a couple of hours of the accused and the deceased having left the house, can also be said to have been proved beyond the shadow of doubt.

Further, since there has been ample evidence to indicate that the first informant found the deceased lying in a motionless state with fatal injuries and when she raised alarm, the prosecution witnesses, Dharam Pawar (PW-6) and Sushila Pawar (PW-9) went to the scene of occurrence and found the deceased lying beneath the mango tree.

Adding to the above, Court also stated that in any event, the interval of time between the accused and the deceased leaving together their home and the deceased having been found dead in the field ‘Kolki’, did not exceed three hours.

It is trite law that the ‘last seen’ theory comes into play when the time gap between the point of time when the accused and the deceased were last seen alive and when the deceased is found dead, is so small that the possibility of any person other than the accused being the perpetrator of the offence, is inconceivable.

In view of the above law and facts of the case, Court held that the prosecution succeeded in establishing that the accused and the deceased were “last seen together”.

Nature of the death

The nature of the injuries found on the person of the deceased and the attendant circumstances are of determinative significance. Bench stated that the injuries found on the person of the deceased were on accessible and elective parts i.e. wrist and neck.

It is true that the accused did not endeavour to offer an explanation as regards the circumstances in which the deceased suffered the aforesaid injuries, when confronted with the incriminating material.

The question that triggers in the above circumstances is whether the failure to offer the explanation is sufficient to fasten the liability on the accused?

In the circumstances of the present case, in the absence of any positive evidence, motive to eliminate the deceased cannot be attributed to the accused on the premise that, before the accused and the deceased shifted to Khatgaun, their marital life was afflicted with discord.

Accused having changed the clothes with a view to conceal the fact that the clothes which he wore at the time of occurrence were stained with blood, is not of conclusive tendency and incriminating nature. Admittedly, the accused was found in an injured condition. Wounds were found on both the wrists and neck of the accused.

Adding to the above, Court expressed that the accused had visible injuries, on his person, when he was apprehended. The presence of bloodstains on the clothes of the accused, which he wore on the day of occurrence, therefore, cannot be construed as an incriminating circumstance.

Though prosecution made an endeavour to draw home the point that the accused had self-inflicted the above-stated injuries overcome by the feeling of guilt. Bench found it hazardous to draw an inference that the said attempt on the part of the accused to cause injuries to himself was due to the fact that the accused was overcome by the guilt, as held by the Additional Sessions Judge.

What emerges from the above discussion?

From all the above discussion, Court observed that there has been clear evidence of ‘last seen’ and the death of the deceased within a couple of hours of the deceased and the accused having been last seen together.

The wounds found on the person of the deceased especially the situs, elective parts, and nature were suggestive of suicidal infliction.

As the fundamental fact of the deceased having met a homicidal death itself is in the corridor of uncertainty.

In Court’s opinion, the circumstance of ‘last seen’, and the failure of the accused to offer a plausible explanation, on their own, were not sufficient to sustain the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

Section 106 of the Evidence Act does not relieve the prosecution of its general or  primary burden of establishing the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

 Supreme Court’s decision in Sawal Das v. State of Bihar, (1974) 4 SCC 193 was also referred for the above purpose.

Propositions that emerged from the above discussion:

  • If an accused is last seen with the deceased, he must offer an explanation as to how and when he parted company with the deceased.
  • The failure of the accused to offer a reasonable explanation in discharge of the said burden provides an additional link in the chain of circumstances proved against the accused.

In the present matter, homicidal nature of the death was not established and the prosecution case rested upon the circumstance of “last seen” to a great extent.

With regard to the legal position in respect to sustaining the guilt on the only circumstances of “last seen”, Court referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Dharam Deo v. State of U.P., (2007) 3 SCC 755.

Hence, Bench held that circumstance of ‘last seen’, in the totality of circumstances, cannot sustain the burden of establishing the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, especially when the fact of homicidal death is in the realm of uncertainty.

High Court concluded its decision by referring to the decision in Navaneethakrishnan v. State, (2018) 16 SCC 161, wherein the legal position in the context of sustaining conviction on the basis of circumstantial evidence was expounded.

Conviction under Section 302 IPC could not sustained in view of the above discussion. [Krishna Mahadev Chavan v. State of  Maharashtra, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 191, decided on 12-02-2021]


Advocates who represented the parties:

Aashish Satpute, Advocate appointed by Court for appellant.

S.R. Agarkar, APP for respondent-State.

One comment

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.