Does merely residing in the same house make in-laws accomplice in a dowry death case? Supreme Court answers

Supreme Court of India: In an appeal regarding dowry death case the Division Bench of Navin Sinha and R. Subhash Reddy, JJ., granted acquittal to an old aged couple. Opining that the Courts below had failed to consider the evidences available on the standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” The Bench stated,

“Conviction of the appellants was not maintainable on a probability in absence of direct evidence. The benefit of doubt ought to have been given to the appellants.”

The instant appeal had been filed by an elderly couple, appellant 1, 77 years old and appellant 2, 69 years old who was stated to be bed ridden. The case of the appellants was that they had been wrongfully convicted under Section 498A IPC leading to three years of imprisonment with fine and a default stipulation in relation to the death of their daughter-in-law.

Counsel for the appellant, Mr. S. Nagamuthu submitted that their appeal had been dismissed by the High Court of Madras. It was further contended by the counsel that there was no evidence to support the conviction of the appellants; therefore, the Trial Court should have given benefit of doubt to the appellants. Contending that the husband of the deceased was already in custody having been convicted under Sections 304-B and 498A IPC, and there being no evidence to establish the involvement of the appellants, the counsel argued that their conviction was not sustainable in law.

On the other hand, the State opposed the appeal on the ground that the appellants were residing under the same roof. The parents of the deceased had met the appellants also and complained with regard to the harassment being meted to the deceased. The failure of the appellants to take steps to remedy the situation had made their complicity very evident. Therefore, conviction being based on concurrent findings of their complicity by two Courts the same should not be interfered.

Whether merely residing in the same house makes in-laws accomplice in a dowry death case? 

Considering the submissions made on behalf of the parties and after going through the evidence and the order of the Trial Court as well as of the High Court, the Bench opined that the allegations against the appellants were generalised in nature. Therefore, the Trial Court came to the conclusion that though they were living in a separate portion of the house, their conduct amounted to indirect harassment of the deceased.

Noticeably, while discussing that the appellants allegedly fed the ears of their son against the deceased, the conclusion of the Trial Court was that these were normal wear and tear of married life and that they probably (emphasis) added fuel to the fire. The High Court had not even bothered to discuss the nature of evidence available against the appellants and the reasoning of the Trial Court for conviction.

Hence, the Division Bench opined that the conviction of the appellants was not maintainable on a probability in absence of direct evidence. The benefit of doubt ought to have been given to the appellants. Consequently, the conviction of the appellants was set aside. Noticing that appellant 2 had already been granted exemption from surrendering on account of her medical condition, the Bench directed release of appellant 1 as well from the custody.

[R. Natarajan v. State of T.N., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 455, decided on 01-07-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

Appearance before the Court by:

For Petitioners: S. Nagamuthu, Sr. Adv., B. Mohanraj, Adv., K. Kanagaraj, Adv. and K. Krishna Kumar, AOR

For Respondent(s): D. Kumanan, AOR, Pulkit Tare, Adv. and M. Yogesh Kanna, AOR

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