Supreme Court: In an appeal challenging the judgment and order dated 1-05-2012 passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court setting aside the Trial Court judgment sentencing the respondent under Section 302 of Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) and thereby acquitting him, the Division Bench of B.V. Nagarathna and Manoj Misra, JJ. refused to interfere with the High Court’s view and dismissed the State’s appeal.
The Court pointed towards the circumstantial evidence pressed upon by the prosecution, i.e.,
Last seen evidence of deceased accompanied by the accused in his own house at 7PM on 10-12-1998;
Deceased’s dead body with multiple injuries found by his nephew in his own house at 1PM on 12-12-1998;
Autopsy report dated 12-12-1998 reflecting possible cause of death within 2 days as a result of shock and haemorrhage due to ante mortem incised wounds;
Extra-judicial confession by accused followed by handing over to the police custody;
Accused’s disclosure to the police on 25-12-1998 regarding place of hidden knife used in alleged crime followed by recovery of the same;
The opinion of the Autopsy surgeon that the incised wounds on deceased’s body could be caused by that knife.
The Trial Court found the aforementioned chain of circumstantial evidence to be complete to conclusively indicate that no one else but the accused committed murder, and therefore convicted and sentenced the accused.
The said conviction was appealed against before the High Court which found that the incriminating circumstances were not proved beyond reasonable doubt and did not constitute a complete chain of circumstantial evidence to conclusively indicate that the accused committed the crime. The High Court therefore set aside the Trial Court’s order and acquitted the accused.
The Court first analyzed its power under Article 136 of the Constitution before interfering with the order of acquittal reversing conviction. The Court relied on State of U.P. v. Sahai, (1982) 1 SCC 352 and expressed the usual course when the Court is reluctant to interfere with the acquittal orders unless it appears that the High Court acquitted the person based on wrong reasoning, legally erroneous and perverse approach to facts of the case while ignoring some most vital facts resulting in grave and substantial miscarriage of justice, the Court may rightfully exercise extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 136. The same view was followed in State of M.P. v. Paltan Mallah, (2005) 3 SCC 169 and Basheera Begam v. Mohd. Ibrahim, (2020) 11 SCC 174.
The Court regarded the instant case as one based on circumstantial evidence. The Court restated the trite law for convicting an accused based on circumstantial evidence, wherein, “the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt each of the incriminating circumstances on which it proposes to rely, circumstances relied upon must be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards accused’s guilt and forming a chain so far complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability it is the accused and no one else who had committed the crime excluding all other hypothesis inconsistent with his guilt and consistent with his innocence.”
The Court pointed out that the deceased was found dead on 12-12-1998, FIR was registered against unknown accused on the same day and the name of the accused did not surface on record until 25-12-1998, when he was handed over to the police based on a confession to a witness. On another witness’s last seen theory and disclosure of suspicion regarding accused’s involvement on 13-12-1998, the High Court highlighted the gap till his arrest and regarded the said witness to be set up to create link evidence.
The Court also perused the autopsy report pointed that it revealed occurrence of rigor mortis in the lower limbs, which gave rise to a possibility of death within 30 hours of the autopsy, indicated that death might have occurred much after the respondent was last seen with the deceased. The Court said that “there was no evidence as to when the accused left the house and that no one else could have entered the house in the interregnum, other intervening circumstances including hand of some third person in the crime was not ruled out by the prosecution evidence.”
The Court also rejected the incriminating value of the knife since the same was denied by the accused and absence of serologist report to prove it to be human blood for connecting it with the crime. The Court did not find the High Court’s view ‘perverse’ warranting its interference. Regarding the extra-judicial confession, the Court observed that “Ordinarily, a person makes a confession either to absolve oneself of the burden of guilt or to seek protection under the hope that the person to whom confession is made would protect him. Normally a confession to absolve oneself of the guilt is made to a person on whom the confessor reposes confidence” and restated the High Court’s observation that the accused was not related to the witness and denied confession.
On the argument that accused failed to discharge burden under Section 106 of Evidence Act, 1872, the Court explained that the said provision does not absolve prosecution to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. The Court relied on Basheera Begam v. Mohd. Ibrahim, (2020) 11 SCC 174 to explain that “It is only when the prosecution has led evidence which, if believed, will sustain a conviction, or which makes out a prima facie case, the question arises of considering facts of which the burden of proof would lie upon the accused.”
In the instant case, the Court concurred with High Court that incriminating circumstances were not proved beyond reasonable doubt and chain of evidence was not complete to interfere with a degree of certainty of accused having committed the crime, and thus, burden could not be placed on the accused to prove his innocence.
The Court dismissed the instant appeal refusing to interfere with the High Court’s decision regarding acquittal of the accused.
[State of Punjab v. Kewal Krishan, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 746, decided on 21-06-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Appellant: Advocate Mohit Siwach, Advocate on Record Karan Sharma.