acquits murder convict on ground of insanity

Supreme Court: In a criminal appeal against the conviction and life imprisonment sentence order of the Sikkim High Court for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’), the Division Bench of J.B. Pardiwala and Prashant Kumar Mishra* JJ. allowed the appeal and set aside the impugned order and acquitted the convict.

Factual Matrix

In the matter at hand, the convicted murdered his grandfather (‘deceased’). The daughter of the deceased filed a First Information Report (‘FIR’) against the convict stating that the convicted has murdered the 80 years old deceased with a sharp-edged weapon. A chargesheet was submitted for offences under Section 302 of the IPC, before the beginning of the Trial, the convict raised a plea of insanity. Thereafter, he was referred to the Psychiatric Unit of the STNM Hospital, Gangtok for examination of his mental state. The Trial Court considered the matter within the ambit of Section 84 of IPC and concluded that the convict was incapable of knowing the nature of his acts by reason of unsoundness of mind and it is highly probable that he was unaware of what he was doing. Thus, the Trial Court acquitted the convict.

An appeal was preferred by the State of Sikkim before the High Court, whereby the acquittal order was reversed, and the convict was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Analysis and Decision

The Court noted that the Trial Court and High Court had established that the convict had committed the murder of the deceased. The Court perused the informant’s statement that she had heard someone saying ‘aaya aaya’ and ‘chyak chyak’ sounds when she had gone to a nearby water stream to wash the utensils. When she rushed back home, she saw the convict aiming the sharp-edged weapon towards the deceased and saw the deceased in pool of blood all over his face and neck. The Court also perused the statement of another prosecution witness, who stated that she saw the convict pulling the deceased by his neck. Therefore, the Court opined that the convict had attacked the deceased with sharp-edged weapon causing his death.

Whether the convict’s case falls within the exception of Section 84 of the IPC?

The Court perused the statement of the convict’s cousin, wherein he had admitted that convict was studying in Dehradun and that he was brought back to Sikkim as he was suffering from mental illness. The Court also noted that the informant had also admitted to this fact of convict’s mental illness. The Court noted that the convict’s mother had stated that in the year 2015, one of the convict’s friends telephoned her that the convict had fallen ill, and he was fighting with his friends, hence he was accordingly, brought back to Sikkim and was taken to some spiritual healers for treatment as also to Lama/Priest but to no avail. The mother had also stated that the convict was taken to the Central Referral (Manipal) Hospital for treatment by a psychiatrist and after a week in the hospital, he was brought back, and was advised to continuously take medicines for keeping his mental status healthy, the Court said that the said statement was corroborated with the doctors statement. The Court noted that the doctor had opined that the convict had major depressive disorder with psychotic features and that he had partially impaired judgment due to perceptive auditory hallucinations.

The Court considered it appropriate to consider the behavior of the convict during the incident and after the incident and upon perusing the informant’s statement, found that the convict had told the informant after the incident that he did not know as to what he had done to his grandfather/deceased and that he was not trying to flee the place. The Court said that this behavior of the appellant was not that of a normal person. The Court also noted that the medical reports of the convict had established that the convict was under medication which had influence of psychotropic substance.

The Court perused Section 84 of the IPC which provides for ‘Act of a person of unsound mind—Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law’. The Court said that it is settled that the standard for proving the insanity is only ‘reasonable doubt’, as laid down in Dahyabhai Chhaganbhai Thakker vs. State of Gujarat. The Court referred to Surendra Mishra vs. State of Jharkh and 6, Hari Singh Gond vs. Stat eof M.P, wherein it was held “that an accused who seeks exoneration from liability of an act under Section 84 of IPC must prove legal insanity and not medical insanity and since the term insanity or unsoundness of mind has not been defined in the IPC, it carries different meaning in different contexts and describes varying degrees of mental disorder. A distinction is to be made between legal insanity and medical insanity. The Court is concerned with legal insanity and not with medical insanity”.

The Court said that the High Court had reversed the acquittal order and found the convict guilty mainly on reappreciation of evidence by holding that the Trial Court erred in extending the benefit of Section 84 of IPC, without even recording a finding that the Trial Court’s finding is perverse. The Court said that it is settled that the judgment of acquittal can be reversed by the Appellate Court only when there is perversity and not by taking a different view on reappreciation of evidence. If the conclusion of the Trial Court is a plausible one, merely because another view is possible on reappreciation of evidence, the Appellate Court should not disturb the findings of acquittal and substitute its own findings to convict the accused, as laid in State of Rajasthan vs. Abdul Mannan (2011) 8 SCC 65.

The Court said that after considering the medical evidence of mental illness and abnormal behavior of the convict at the time of occurrence, the Trial Court’s findings was not wrong, hence, the High Court erred in setting aside the Trial Court’s judgment of acquittal. Therefore, the Court set aside the impugned judgment and affirmed the Trial Court’s acquittal order and acquitted the convict of the charges under Section 302 of the IPC.

[Rupesh Manger v. State of Sikkim, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1157, Decided on 13-09-2023]

*Judgment Authored by: Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra

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