Trial Courts have freedom of mind to decide sensitive cases on merit; Appellate courts must refrain from reversing acquittal just for the sake of it: SC 

Supreme Court:  Reminding the Courts of the importance of hierarchy of Courts, the bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh*, JJ has held that the Appellate Court shall not expect the trial court to act in a particular way depending upon the sensitivity of the case. Rather it should be appreciated if a trial court decides a case on its own merit despite its sensitivity.

“Every case has its own journey towards the truth and it is the Court’s role undertake. Truth has to be found on the basis of evidence available before it. There is no room for subjectivity nor the nature of offence affects its performance.”

Factual Background

In the present case, it was alleged that both the accused carried three weapons, waylaid the deceased at a signal in a main road at about 5 p.m. and after the initial attack, dragged him to the pavement, and thereafter inflicted multiple injuries.

PW-1, who saw the occurrence from a fair distance, was known to the deceased and the deceased, who had his intestine coming out, told him the story implicating the accused.

The Deceased was taken to a hospital run by PW-25, a doctor very well known to PW-1. This hospital which was about two kilometres from the place of occurrence, while another nursing home was in existence at about 50 meters.

PW-25 gave treatment to the deceased at about 5.05 p.m. He died of multiple injuries caused by haemorrhage at about 5.45 p.m. About 40 days thereafter, at the request of the police, PW-25 gave another certificate introducing adequate material to indicate that there was a dying declaration.

Before the trial court, the prosecution examined as many as 28 witnesses. Most of the witnesses pertaining to conspiracy, occurrence, recovery and extraordinary judicial confession turned hostile.

On behalf of the defence, a doctor was examined to show that considering the nature of the injuries suffered, the death must have been instantaneous.

The Court of Sessions without exception, threadbare considered all the materials including the witnesses who turned hostile. After due scrutiny, benefit of doubt was extended in favour of the appellants.

The Karnataka High Court, however, did not consider the entire evidence as discussed by the trial court and the judgment of the trial court was reversed and conviction was rendered sentencing the appellants for life.

Duty of appellate Courts

It is pertinent to note that Section 378 CrPC enables the State to prefer an appeal against an order of acquittal. Section 384 CrPC speaks of the powers that can be exercised by the Appellate Court. When the trial court renders its decision by acquitting the accused, presumption of innocence gathers strength before the Appellate Court. As a consequence, the onus on the prosecution becomes more burdensome as there is a double presumption of innocence.

However, at times, courts do have their constraints. Sometimes different decisions are being made by different courts, namely, trial court on the one hand and the Appellate Courts on the other.

Certainly, the court of first instance has its own advantages in delivering its verdict, which is to see the witnesses in person while they depose. However, the Appellate Court is expected to involve itself in a deeper, studied scrutiny of not only the evidence before it, but is duty bound to satisfy itself whether the decision of the trial court is both possible and plausible view. When two views are possible, the one taken by the trial court in a case of acquittal is to be followed on the touchstone of liberty along with the advantage of having seen the witnesses. The Appellate Court shall remind itself of the role required to play, while dealing with a case of an acquittal.

“The district judiciary is expected to be the foundational court, and therefore, should have the freedom of mind to decide a case on its own merit or else it might become a stereotyped one rendering conviction on a moral platform.”

Hence, indictment and condemnation over a decision rendered, on considering all the materials placed before it, should be avoided. The Appellate Court is expected to maintain a degree of caution before making any remark.

Ruling

The Supreme Court found it unnecessary on the part of the High Court to make strong comments on the judgment written by the trial court.

It noticed that,

  • The trial court took enormous pains in considering the evidence of all the witnesses one by one and gave exhaustive reasoning for its ultimate conclusion.
  • The dying declaration was put forth by the prosecution through the mouth of PWs 1, 2 and 25. When the evidence let in by them was found to not be trustworthy, there cannot be any dying declaration either in fact or in law.

The evidence of PW-25 had no existence of dying declaration in it. He had deposed that he did not remember whether the deceased told him that the accused attacked him and caused injuries. He later testified that he had given put forth the dying declaration due to the persistence of the police.

“It rendered a conviction on mere surmise, even though an inference can never be the basis of a conviction when the testimony of a witness is not believed on cogent reasoning.”

  • The alleged occurrence was said to have happened at about 5 p.m. on a busy road with heavy traffic and even the evidence of PW-1 and PW2 suggests that there were about 1000 persons.
  • The defence also examined a Government doctor, an expert in the field of surgery, who had clearly deposed that it would be impossible for the deceased to be conscious after suffering injuries such as intestines coming out.

The Court wondered how the various reasons given by the trial court were found unacceptable by the High Court especially when it did not consider the evidence of the other witnesses.

It was, hence, held that the High Court did not undertake the exercise as mandated under Section 378 read with Section 384 CrPC in reversing the reasoned decision rendered by the trial court. Consequently, the orders of conviction passed by the High Court was set aside.

[Mohan v. State of Karnataka, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1233, decided on 13.12.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice MM Sundresh

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