Accused cannot be convicted for conspiracy only on the basis of co-accused’s confession: SC

Supreme Court: The bench of R. Subhash Reddy* and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ has held that the confessional statements of the co-accused, in absence of other acceptable corroborative evidence, are not enough to convict an accused for conspiracy.

Background

On 14.03.2009, the police party was escorting four accused from Central Jail, Jaipur to the Court of CJM, Bhiwani by train. When the train reached at Railway Station Nangal Pathani, four young boys entered their compartment and attacked the police party in order to rescue the said accused. The accused, who were in custody, also tried to escape. They even tried to snatch the official carbine. One of the accused fired upon Head Constable, who later succumbed to his injuries.

In the complaint, it was stated that the police overpowered one person, who had thrown chilly powder in their eyes and the remaining three accused succeeded in fleeing. The apprehended accused disclosed his name and identity of other assailants.

To prove the guilt of the accused, prosecution examined as many as 23 witnesses in support of its case. The statements of the accused were also recorded under Section 313 of the Cr.P.C. They had pleaded that they were innocent and had been falsely implicated.

The Additional Sessions Judge by judgment dated 14.01.2010, held all the accused guilty for commission of offences punishable under Sections 224, 225, 332, 353, 302 r/w Section 120-B of the Penal Code. The Punjab and Haryana High Court affirmed the conviction.

Analysis

To prove the charge of conspiracy, within the ambit of Section 120-B, it is necessary to establish that there was an agreement between the parties for doing an unlawful act. At the same time, it is to be noted that it is difficult to establish conspiracy by direct evidence at all, but at the same time, in absence of any evidence to show meeting of minds between the conspirators for the intended object of committing an illegal act, it is not safe to hold a person guilty for offences under Section 120-B of IPC.

“A few bits here and a few bits there on which prosecution relies, cannot be held to be adequate for connecting the accused with the commission of crime of criminal conspiracy.”

On the question of relying on the confessional statement of the co-accused, the Court took note of the ruling in Indra Dalal v. State of Haryana, (2015) 11 SCC 31, wherein it was explained that,

“16. The philosophy behind the aforesaid provision is acceptance of a harsh reality that confessions are extorted by the police officers by practising oppression and torture or even inducement and, therefore, they are unworthy of any credence. The provision absolutely excludes from evidence against the accused a confession made by him to a police officer. This provision applies even to those confessions which are made to a police officer who may not otherwise be acting as such. If he is a police officer and confession was made in his presence, in whatever capacity, the same becomes inadmissible in evidence. This is the substantive rule of law enshrined under this provision and this strict rule has been reiterated countlessly by this Court as well as the High Courts.

17. The word “confession” has nowhere been defined. However, the courts have resorted to the dictionary meaning and explained that incriminating statements by the accused to the police suggesting the inference of the commission of the crime would amount to confession and, therefore, inadmissible under this provision. It is also defined to mean a direct acknowledgment of guilt and not the admission of any incriminating fact, however grave or conclusive. Section 26 of the Evidence Act makes all those confessions inadmissible when they are made by any person, whilst he is in the custody of a police officer, unless such a confession is made in the immediate presence of a Magistrate. Therefore, when a person is in police custody, the confession made by him even to a third person, that is, other than a police officer, shall also become inadmissible.”

Considering that in Uppa alias Manjunatha v. State of Karnataka, (2013) 14 SCC 729, it was held that when an accused is held guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, confirmation of sentence by the High Court is justifiable only in the event of giving sound reasons upon analysis of material evidence, the Court noticed that in the case on hand, a perusal of the judgment of the High Court revealed that except referring to depositions, High Court has not considered the evidence at all and confirmed the conviction and sentence as ordered by the Trial Court.

Ruling on facts

On close scrutiny of evidence on record, the Supreme Court held that prosecution failed to prove its case, that the appellant in the present case, had conspired with other accused for the offences for which he was charged.

“Except the alleged confessional statements of the coaccused and in absence of any other corroborative evidence, it is not safe to maintain the conviction and sentence imposed upon the Appellant.”

The Court held that the findings recorded by the Trial Court in convicting the appellant mainly on the ground that he was one of the conspirators for the crime in question, is erroneous and illegal. The High Court also, did not considered the evidence on record in proper perspective and erroneously confirmed the conviction and sentence imposed on the appellant.

The Court, hence, set aside the conviction and ordered the release of the appellant.

[Parveen v. State of Haryana, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1184, decided on 07.12.2021]


Counsels

For appellant: Advocate Rishi Malhotra

For State: Addl. AG Bansuri Swaraj


*Judgment by: Justice R. Subhash Reddy

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