Bombay High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Sadhana S. Jadhav and Milind N. Jadhav, JJ., allowed an appeal which was filed against the conviction of the appellant for the offence punishable under section 302 of Penal code, 1860 wherein he was sentenced to suffer R.I. for life and fine of Rs.5,000.

On 18-10-2010, a report was lodged by Laxman Daji Bhoye (witness 1)  alleging therein that one person from Sawarpada informed him that on 17-10-2010 Suresh Bhagat had killed his wife. He went to the spot to verify the same and saw Suresh Bhagat (‘the present appellant’) seated besides the dead body of his wife who was lying in a pool of blood. On enquiry he disclosed that when he returned home from the house of his relatives after watching television, he knocked on the door but there was no response so he entered the house through the window. He noticed that his wife was in deep sleep. He assaulted on her head and back and thereafter, paid no attention to her. In the morning, at about 6.00 am, he realized that his wife has passed away. According to the prosecution, there is an extra-judicial confession by the accused. The prosecution had examined five witnesses to bring home the guilt of the accused amongst which witnesses 1, 2 and 3 were declared hostile.

The question before the Court was as to what is the evidence as against the accused which would lead to a necessary inference that the accused is the author of the injuries sustained by the deceased.

An accused can be convicted only in the eventuality that the investigation places on record such material which could be converted into admissible evidence and can be read in evidence.

The Court believed that in the present case, in view of the nature of the evidence adduced by the prosecution, it would be difficult to act upon the supposition that the fact of homicidal death at the hands of the accused is proved.

Counsel for the appellant submitted that this was a case of no evidence in the eyes of law and hence, the accused deserved to be acquitted of the charge levelled against him.

APP submitted that it was incumbent upon the accused to offer an explanation as contemplated under section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act and the very fact that the dead body was found in the house of the accused and he had not put forth any plausible explanation was sufficient to convict the accused for an offence punishable under section 302 of IPC. It was further submitted that there was an extra-judicial confession before Witness 1 which goes to the root of the matter and pointed towards the culpability of the accused.

The Court explained that it is a settled principle of criminal jurisprudence that an accused has a right to maintain silence and it is for the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. As far as extra-judicial confession was concerned, the Court reiterated that the same was not reliable for the simple reason that the person to whom the purported extra-judicial confession was made had resiled from his earlier statement and had been declared hostile by the prosecution.

Placing reliance on State of Rajasthan v. Raja Ram, (2003) 8 SCC 180 where it was held that “an extra-judicial confession, if voluntary and true and made in a fit state of mind, can be relied upon by the Court. The confession will have to be proved like any other fact. The value of the evidence as to confession, like any other evidence, depends upon the veracity of the witness to whom it has made. The value of the evidence depends on the reliability of the witness who gives the evidence.” the Court stated that an extra-judicial confession is a weak piece of evidence and can be relied upon provided, it is voluntary and is made in a fit state of mind.

The Court while allowing the appeal held that this could be a case of no evidence and thus, falls in the category of disproved. Judgment and order of conviction was quashed and set aside and the appellant was acquitted of the offence punishable under section 302 of the IPC.

[Suresh Ladak Bhagat v. State of Maharashtra, Criminal Appeal No.9 of 2014, decided on 19-04-2022]


Mr Samir Arunkumar Vaidya, Mr Hare Krishna Mishra: Advocates for the Appellant.

Ms M.M. Deshmukh: APP for the Respondent – State.


*Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: The Division Bench of Joymalya Bagchi and Ananya Bandyopadhyay, JJ. allowed an appeal which was directed against the judgment and order convicting the appellant for commission of offence punishable under Sections 302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentencing him to suffer rigorous imprisonment for life and to pay fine.

A  10 year old boy, had gone out to fly kite with his friends and didn’t return that evening, next day body of the boy was found lying in the canal. Two days later, father of the boy returned to his native village from his place of work at Mumbai and filed written complaint alleging his son had been murdered by an unknown person. Couple of days later, he made statement implicating the appellant who was the Moulabi of a nearby mosque. It was alleged that the appellant had illicit relationship with mother of the boy. The child had disclosed the illicit relationship to his father and accordingly appellant nursed a grudge against him. In course of investigation, a gunny bag and rope were recovered from an open spot near the mosque. Appellant absconded and was later arrested. In conclusion of trial the above mentioned punishment was granted.

Counsel appearing for the appellant submitted there was no direct evidence implicating the appellant in the crime. FIR was registered against unknown accused and motive to commit the crime had not been proved. There was no evidence on record that the child was last seen with the appellant prior to his death. Gunny bag and rope were recovered from an open space and did not implicate the appellant in any manner whatsoever. Appellant had gone to his native place in Bihar and was subsequently arrested and it cannot be said that he had absconded. He pleaded that mere abscondence does not establish guilt of an accused.

Counsels for the State argued appellant had strong motive to commit the crime as the child had seen the appellant and his mother Rasida in a compromising position.

The Court noted that the prosecution case is based on circumstantial evidence and there was no direct evidence that the appellant had murdered the victim. The court reminded that when case is based on circumstantial evidence it is the duty of the prosecution: –

(a) to prove all the circumstances relied upon against the appellant, beyond doubt;

(b) the circumstances so proved must form a complete chain which irresistibly points to the guilt of the accused and rules out all other possible hypothesis of innocence.

This Court had to identify whether the above requirement of law have been satisfied in the facts of the present case. The Court after perusing the evidence found that it cannot be said that the intimacy between appellant and her mother Rashida was divulged only by Farhad as  uncle of Farhad, had also informed his brother about such relationship and thus it is difficult to understand why the appellant would nurse grudge against the minor son of his lover and not against other relations who had also informed the former about his illicit relationship. Hence, motive to commit the crime did not appear to be convincing.

Coming to the other circumstance, namely, recovery of gunny bag and rope from the backside of the mosque of the appellant, the Court noted that the articles were recovered from an open space which was accessible to all. Moreover, there was nothing on record to show that the gunny bag or rope so recovered were used to murder the victim or dispose of the body in the canal. No evidence was forthcoming that on the fateful evening or immediately prior to the death of the victim, appellant was last seen with the child.

Regarding the abscondence of the appellant immediately after the incident which is strongly relied on,  the Court relied on the judgment of the Supreme court in Sk. Yusuf v. State of W.B., (2011) 11 SCC 754 where it was held that it settled law abscondence of an accused by itself does not establish his guilt.

“31. … It is a settled legal proposition that in case a person is absconding after commission of offence of which he may not even be the author, such a circumstance alone may not be enough to draw an adverse inference against him as it would go against the doctrine of innocence. It is quite possible that he may be running away merely on being suspected, out of fear of police arrest and harassment.”

Abscondence of the appellant when judged in the backdrop of the fact and circumstance of the case cannot by any stretch of imagination be treated to be conclusive evidence with regard to his guilt.

The Court was of the opinion that prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt and the appellant was entitled to an order of acquittal. Appeal was allowed and conviction and sentence of the appellant was set aside.[Md. Firoz Ala v. State of West Bengal, C.R.A. 176 of 2019, decided on 18-05-2022]


For the Appellant : Mr Kallol Kumar Basu, Md. Jannat Ul Firdous, Ms Tithi Majumder

For the State : Mr Swapan Banerjee, Ms Purnima Ghosh


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a big relief for three death row convicts, the 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai* and BV Nagarathna, JJ has acquitted all of them of charges of killing 6 members of their family after it was found that the prosecution had failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.

The Prosecution story

It was Prosecution’s case that, on 23rd January, 2014, at around 8.30 p.m., Momin Khan, with his wife Nazra, along with Jaikam Khan (first cousin) and Sajid (Jaikam Khan’s son) came armed with knives and assaulted Mausam Khan   (father – 85 years), Asgari (mother – 80 years), Shaukeen Khan (brother), Shanno (sister-in¬law- 30 years), Samad (nephew – 8 years) and Muskan (niece-15 years) and killed them brutally.

The verdicts by the Trial Court and the Allahabad High Court

Vide judgment and order dated 2nd January, 2016, the Trial Court convicted all the four accused for the offence punishable under Section 302/34 of the IPC and sentenced them to death vide order dated 11th January, 2016. Momin, Jaikam and Sajid were also convicted for the offence punishable under Section 25/4 of the Arms Act and awarded rigorous imprisonment for a term of three years with a fine of Rupees Five Thousand and in case of default, they were to undergo additional imprisonment for a term of three months.

While the conviction and sentence imposed on Momin, Jaikam and Sajid was affirmed, Nazra was acquitted by the High Court.

The inconsistencies and lacunae in the prosecution case

  • The two witnesses were found to be interested witnesses and their testimony was found ‘neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable’ as though they could have witnessed the assault two victims, it was difficult to believe that they could have witnessed the assault on the other four deceased persons as allegedly the accused had murdered six deceased at different places of the house.
  • As per the prosecution version, the main motive behind the crime was the dispute over the management of the brick¬kiln between the accused Momin Khan on one hand and deceased Mausam Khan, deceased Shaukeen Khan and P.W.1-Ali Sher Khan on the other hand. However, as per the
  • P.W.1 ­Ali Sher Khan(Shaukeen Khan’s brother) and P.W.2 ­Jaan Mohammad (Ali Sher Khan’s brother-in-law) had admitted that Jaikam Khan and Sajid had nothing to do with the brick kiln business of deceased Mausam Khan nor was there any dispute between them. Hence, with regard to Jaikam Khan and Sajid, the prosecution has utterly failed to prove any motive and has also failed to prove any strong motive insofar as Momin Khan is concerned.
  • According to P.W.1¬Ali Sher Khan and P.W.2¬ Jaan Mohammad, a large number of villagers had gathered at the spot after the incident. However, none of the independent witnesses have been examined by the prosecution. Since the witnesses examined on behalf of the prosecution were interested witnesses, non¬examination of independent witnesses, though available, made the prosecution version doubtful.
  • Though fingerprints were taken at the spot, the fingerprint expert’s report was not placed on record.
  • Though the IO had come to the spot with the dog squad, report of the dog squad was also not placed on record.
  • The assertion of P.W.1¬Ali Sher Khan and P.W.2-Jaan Mohammad that they together had gone to the police station to lodge the report, was also contradicted by the evidence of the Constable Clerk at the police station. Further, not informing the Police on phone, despite having mobile phones, also casts a serious doubt with regard to the genuineness of the prosecution case.

“Shocked” and “amazed” at the findings of the Trial Court and the High Court

Referring to a paragraph of the Trial Court’s judgment, the Court said it was “shocked” at the finding and that,

“The narration makes for an interesting reading as a story. However, all the observations are nothing but conjectures and surmises, without there being any evidentiary support to them. It is really surprising, as to how the Additional Sessions Judge could have dealt with the present case in such a casual manner when he was considering the question of life and death of four accused.”

The Court was also “amazed” by the manner in which the High court has dealt with the present matter as it had attempted to put a burden on the accused, which, as per the well settled law, does not shift unless prosecution has proved the case beyond reasonable doubt.

The Court observed,

“While coming to the conclusion that the prosecution has failed to bring home the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, we are at pains to observe the manner in which the present case has been dealt with by the trial court as well as by the High Court, particularly, when the trial court awarded death penalty to the accused and the High Court confirmed it. The trial court and the High Court were expected to exercise a greater degree of scrutiny, care and circumspection while directing the accused to be hanged till death.”

All death row convicts walk free

Finding that the prosecution had utterly failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt, the Court held that the conviction and death sentence imposed on the accused was totally unsustainable in law. The Court, hence, acquitted all three convicts of the charges and ordered their release.

[Jaikam Khan v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1256, decided on 15.12.2021]


Counsels

For appellants: Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, Advocate Dama Seshadri Naidu,

For P.W.1­: Advocate Anant Agarwal

For State: Additional Advocate General Vinod Diwakar


*Judgment by: Justice BR Gavai 

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Vibhu Bakhru, J., while dismissing the present appeal upheld the decision of the trial court for offences charged under Section 4 of POCSO Act and Sections 342/363/376 of Penal Code, 1860.

In the present appeal filed by the appellant was convicted by the trial court for the under the above-stated Sections. Appellant contended that the impugned judgment ought to be set aside, since it does not extend the benefit of doubt to the appellant in view of inconsistencies in the testimonies of various witnesses.

Further, he contends that MLC of the victim stated that her hymen was normal and the doctor, who was examined for the prosecution had confirmed that the hymen could be ruptured for other reasons as well. Adding to his contentions, he also states that the victim was actually raped by PW-7 and not by the appellant.

Though, the FSL report supported the case of the prosecution that the victim had suffered sexual assault by the accused.

While recording his statement under Section 313 of CrPC, accused also stated that 3-4 days prior to the incident, a quarrel had broken out between him and the mother of the victim due to which, he had been falsely implicated in the case.

Petitioner’s counsel also submitted that since the physical evidence did not corroborate the charges levelled against the appellant, he ought to be acquitted.

Court’s Decision

High Court stated that no contention was advanced on behalf of the appellant was found to be persuasive. Evidence obtained in this case clearly establishes that the appellant is guilty of the offences for which he was charged.

Court stated that, there is overwhelming evidence to establish that the prosecutrix was recovered from the factory premises of the appellant and the same was closed from outside. Mother of the prosecutrix testified to the aforesaid effect. All the other witnesses in the case corroborated the said fact.

Insofar as the MLC was concerned, Dr Anuradha Tyagi was examined, wherein she stated that it was correct that the hymen of the victim appeared to be normal (externally) and as per P/R examination, no tear or bleeding was found. However, she reiterated that the hymen of the prosecutrix was not found to be intact.

Thus, the Court held that testimonies of witnesses were all consistent and there is little room for entertaining any doubt whether the appellant had committed the offences for which he was charged. Forensic evidence fully establishes the case of the prosecution beyond any pale of doubt.

Hence the present appeal is unmerited and dismissed. [Chhedi Paswan v. State, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 464, decided on 17-02-2020]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Court of Appeal of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka: A Division Bench of K.K. Wickremasinghe and K. Priyantha Fernando, JJ., allowed an appeal setting aside the conviction and acquitting the Accused-Appellant from the charge of murder.

The Appellant and the victim (deceased) were husband and wife. Appellant was a serving Brigadier in the Sri Lankan Army, they were sleeping in their room and the victim’s brother (PW 2) was sleeping in another room with the appellant’s son (PW 1). After hearing some unusual noise the PW2 ran to check what had happened on the other hand PW 1 followed the appellant to his room and saw saliva coming out of the mouth of the deceased and blood on her head, she was taken to the hospital where she succumbed to injuries in about 2 hours.

There was no dispute that the shot was fired from the personal weapon of the

Appellant and that the deceased died of that gunshot injury.

The counsels for the appellant Shavindra Fernando PC and Ananda Weerasinghe contended that the deceased had committed suicide by shooting herself and the appellant had tried to grab the weapon while he saw the deceased standing with the gun on her head but he was unsuccessful. After trial, the High Court Judge found the Appellant guilty of the charge and sentenced him to death aggrieved by which the instant appeal was filed. The counsels for the appellant contended that the trial judge had erred in his decision by not considering various important factors like the bullet was fired from a distance of 30 cm away from the head of the deceased and the judgment was based on hearsay evidence and he was denied fair trial. The arguments of both the parties were analyzed again and opinion of expert witnesses was referred to which was unable to prove a case against the appellant and hold him liable for the offence beyond reasonable doubt.

The Court while allowing the appeal set aside the conviction of the appellant and acquitted him on the count of murder explaining that the prosecution had failed to prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt against the Appellant. [Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka v. Don Chandana Priyantha Rupasinghe, 2019 SCC OnLine SL CA 11, decided on 26-11-2019]

Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jammu & Kashmir High Court: Tashi Rabstan, J. upheld the finding of the revisional court as it was found to be well reasoned and no abuse of process of law was visible, warranting any interference from the instant Court.

The petitioner filed the instant petition under Section 561-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (“Cr.P.C”) for setting aside the order passed by learned Additional Sessions Judge, Jammu whereby the order, passed by learned Judicial Magistrate First Class (Munsiff) Jammu discharging the petitioners from the offences mentioned in the Challan against them by the prosecution was set aside.

It was contended by the petitioners that they were being falsely implicated in the FIR by to satisfy a personal vendetta. The material collected by the prosecution during the investigation did not support the prosecution’s case in the framing of charges under Sections 498-A, 323, 504, 506, 109 of the Ranbir Penal Code as the petitioners No. 3 and 4 were not related to the husband of the respondent so as to constitute the offence under Section 498-A RPC.

The counsel for the respondents while trying to defend the Trial Magistrate submitted that the court could not have sifted the evidence placed before it or appreciated the evidence intrinsically at the stage of framing of charge, which was to be considered final. It was further submitted that the allegations in FIR and statements recorded under Section 161 of CrPC prima facie established the offences with which the petitioners were challaned and were required to be put on trial by framing the charge against them.

On perusal of the challan filed after the complete investigation, it was found that statements of nine witnesses recorded under Section 161 CrPC corroborated the allegations leveled against the petitioners in the FIR. The learned Trial Magistrate had appreciated the evidence including the medical report of injuries sustained by the respondent as if she was considering the case either to convict or acquit the accused. The learned Magistrate had observed that petitioner’s 3 and 4 were not related to the husband of the respondent, therefore, the offence under Section 498-A RPC were not made out against them, which was required to proved/disproved by leading evidence and not a mere prima facie case.

The court held that at the time of framing charge, the court had to consider the final investigation report, statement of witnesses under Section 161 CrPC, documents and other evidence adduced by the prosecution and if they saw that the allegations were groundless and no case was made out against the accused, that is, if it was unrebutted, it would not have warranted a conviction, however, if there were even probable chances of commission of offence by accused persons the court needs to frame charges. All this had to be done by prima face appreciation of material on record and not by a roving enquiry by scanning and evaluating the evidence as if the court had to decide whether the accused had committed the offence or not. For such limited purposes of prima facie satisfaction, the court may sift through the evidence produced by the prosecution to find out whether the ingredients of offences were satisfied or not a conduct a mini-trial by marshaling the evidence on record.  [Tamandeep Singh v. State of J&K2019 SCC OnLine J&K 855, decided on 25-10-2019]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Kenya High Court, Nyahururu: R.P.V. Wendoh, J. passed a judgment directing acquittal of an accused in the absence of sound circumstantial evidence.

A child was found dead in Nyahururu, Kenya. The reason for the death was found to be strangulation leaving a dark swollen mark around the neck of the deceased child. The police was called and the investigating officer noticed that the younger brother of the deceased child also had the same swollen mark on his neck, however, he never bothered to interrogate that child. The deceased used to live with father, brother and father’s second wife as the mother of the deceased had parted from his father and he was under the custody of the father. Police suspected David Wang’ondu Githiru, father of the deceased for the murder but when they tried arresting him, he started to run with an intention of escaping from the scene.

Learned counsel for the prosecution, Mutembei called upon nine witnesses who testified the death of the deceased and the swollen mark present on his neck. One of the witnesses also testified the presence of the same mark on the neck of the younger brother of the deceased. The testimony of the witnesses created a chain of events which somewhat placed accused as the probable murderer.

Learned counsel for the defendant, Kihoro contended before the Court that the circumstantial pieces of evidence brought before the Court were hollow as it did not answer as to who killed the child. He further argued that when the accused reached his home on that evening, the child informed him that he was sick. However, the accused had no money at that time so he started to arrange money. Around 3:00 a.m. the next day, he was taken to the hospital but he had died by that time.

The Court after hearing both the sides observed that the case turns on purely circumstantial evidence. It was opined that for the Court to rule a conviction on such evidence, events leading to the death of deceased must form a chain so closely knit together without any breakage or interruption. But, the present case did not give a very strong circumstantial evidence whose final outcome could be relied upon. The Court thus reiterated the judgment passed in Sawe v. Republic, (2003) KLR 364 in which it was opined that “Suspicion, however strong, cannot provide basis for inferring guilt which must be proved by evidence beyond reasonable doubt.”

Thus, the Court in absence of the proof beyond reasonable doubt acquitted the accused. [Republic v. David Wang’ondu Githuru, 2018 SCC OnLine Ken 1, decided on 24-10-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: A Division Bench of Ramesh Sinha and Dinesh Kumar Singh-I, JJ. allowed the appeal filed by a couple accused of murder, against the trial court’s order sentencing them to death for the said offence; and set aside the death reference made by the trial court.

In the present case, the appellant along with his wife Shakila was accused of murdering his two brothers-in-law and mother-in-law by hacking their neck, in a factory where he was a watchman. Charges were made out against the appellant and his wife under Sections 302, 34 and 201 of the Penal Code, 1860. The trial court convicted them on the basis that only appellant had access to the building as he lived inside it, and account of a child witness aged 6 years (son of the deceased lady) was taken into consideration.

Learned counsel for the appellant argued that the child witness’ testimony could not be taken into consideration as he had deposed that he was wrapped in a blanket and thrown in another room by his sister Shakila. The child’s presence at the crime scene could not be confirmed as had he been present over there, he too would have been killed by the accused-appellant but that was not the case. Moreover, the panchayatnama of three deceased was conducted as of unknown persons and had the child witness been present at the place of occurrence then definitely he would have disclosed the two male deceased to be his real brothers and female to be his mother. Also, it could not be said that the factory in which the appellant was a guard and where he was living along with his wife, was in his exclusive possession and not accessible to anyone else because one of the keys of the factory was with the owner of the factory. Therefore, the factory was accessible to others as well.

On the other hand, learned Additional Government Advocate submitted that accused-appellant has bad antecedents as he was already convicted and sentenced by the trial court for murdering his earlier wife. He had absconded from Lucknow jail and was living in Kanpur while working in the said factory as Chaukidar. He had enticed the daughter of deceased lady and when Shakila’s brothers along with their mother came to take her away from accused, a quarrel took place between the parties and Shakila’s mother and two brothers were murdered by accused. Shakila’s younger brother was an eye witness of the incident and had deposed that he saw the accused killing the three deceased with knife and his sister Shakila was facilitating in the crime.

The Court noted the aforestated facts and arguments and opined as below:

Section 118 Evidence Act – Reliability on testimony of child witness:

It was observed that the Investigating Officer had failed to show the place of occurrence and the place from where the child witness was witnessing the incident as the incident had taken place in two parts – body of mother of child witness was found on the second floor of the factory whereas the dead body of his two deceased brothers, was found on the first floor of factory. It was observed that it was highly doubtful that the child, who had stated that he was wrapped and thrown in a room by his sister, could not have seen the murder of the two deceased which had taken place on the first floor. Thus, his evidence could not be said to be wholly reliable for the conviction and sentence of two appellants.

The Court relied on Digamber Vaishnav v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2019) 4 SCC 522 where the Supreme Court while discussing Section 118 of the Evidence Act, 1872 held that “evidence of a child witness must be evaluated carefully as the child may be swayed by what others tell him and he is an easy prey to tutoring. Therefore, the evidence of a child witness must find adequate corroboration before it can be relied upon.”

Presumption under Section 106 Evidence Act:

It was opined that the prosecution admitted that one key of the factory was with accused and another key was with the owner of the factory. Hence, the presumption under Section 106 of the Evidence Act could not be drawn against the accused as he was not in his exclusive possession of the factory.

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt versus suspicion:

Further, the Court opined that it may not be possible that two deceased men aged about 25 years and 35 years and the deceased lady aged about 55 years could have been overpowered and killed single-handedly in such a gruesome manner by the accused who was just aged about 45 years. The possibility of the incident having occurred in some other manner by more persons could not be completely ruled out. It was noted that suspicion, howsoever strong, could not take the place of proof. Reliance in this regard was placed on Sujit Biswas v. State of Assam, (2013) 12 SCC 406 where the Court examined the distinction between ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ and ‘suspicion’.

Establishing guilt on the basis of circumstantial evidence:

Lastly, the Court relied on Digamber Vaishnav case and opined that in criminal cases where guilt of the accused is sought to be established on the basis of circumstantial evidence, “if two views are possible on evidence adduced in the case – one binding to the guilt of the accused and the other is to his innocence, the view which is favourable to the accused, should be adopted.”

In view of the above, the conviction and sentence of both the appellants by the trial court was set aside, and they were directed to be released from jail forthwith unless otherwise wanted in any other case.[Rashid v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine All 2228, decided on 16-05-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Himachal Pradesh High Court: The Bench of Chander Bhusan Barowalia, J. allowed a petition while setting aside the Judgment of conviction passed by the learned trial Court.

In the pertinent case, the appellant was convicted and sentenced for commission of offences punishable under Sections 306 and 498-A IPC. The chain of events as alleged were that after the marriage with the deceased (wife of the appellant), he started ill-treating and humiliating her on account of the reason that she has not brought sufficient dowry. It was also alleged that the appellant was not satisfied with the deceased as she could not give birth to a child. And that on account of cruelty meted out to the deceased by the appellant, ultimately, she consumed a heavy dose of Barbiturate, owing to which, she fell unconscious. The decease had epileptic and an overdose of the medicines was found in the Vicera report. Further, it was claimed that no medical assistance was provided to her. Certain documents were also presented before the Court for the same.

Although all such allegations were denied by the accused along with the other witnesses who all happened to be her friend and relatives. They also proved that they were living happily as they had even adopted a child.

The Court after analyzing the evidence found that the dates when the deceased fell unconscious had a disparity as were mentioned in a different set of documents.

It was also found in the evidence that the deceased was taking medicines regularly and after she fell unconscious, she was taken to PGI, Chandigarh, where she ultimately died. And the origin of documents was also suspicious on which the other party placed heavy reliance. The evidence also showed that the couple had adopted a daughter, who was studying in good school. The photographs placed on the file depicted that the couple was living happily. Therefore, the judgment of conviction passed by the learned trial Court was set aside and the appellant was acquitted of the charges.[Mahesh Gautam v. State of H.P., 2019 SCC OnLine HP 404, decided on 04-04-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Explaining the law on the credibility of the testimony of an interested eye-witness, the bench of NV Ramana and SA Nazeer, JJ held:

“If the evidence of an eyewitness, though a close relative of the victim, inspires confidence, it must be relied upon without seeking corroboration with minute material particulars. It is no doubt true that the Courts must be cautious while considering the evidence of interested witnesses.”

The Court was hearing the appeal of a man who was accused of abusing and attacking a shopkeeper with iron rod who was heading home in the evening with his father. The shopkeeper later succumbed to the injuries on his head. The accused had assaulted the deceased after a prior tussle between them during the daytime at the shop of the deceased over a financial transaction. One iron rod being the weapon of assault was also recovered at the instance of the accused.

The father of the deceased was the sole eye-witness in the case and the therefore, the entire case depended upon the veracity of his testimony. The accused, hence, argued that he was an interested witness and hence, his testimony can be relied on. He also argued that if the eyewitness was present at the time of the incident then why didn’t he receive any injury? To this, the Court answered:

 “It is not necessary that to prove an offence, every eyewitness who had seen the accused hitting the victim should also receive injuries.”

The Court, hence, calling the father of the deceased a ‘natural’ witness to the incident, noticed that the chain of events and the circumstantial evidence thereof completely supports the eyewitness’s statements which in turn strengthens the prosecution case with no manner of doubt.

As a word of caution for the courts, the bench said:

“When analyzing the evidence available on record, Court should not adopt hyper technical approach but should look at the broader probabilities of the case. (…)  Particularly in the criminal cases, from the date of incident till the day they give evidence in the Court, there may be gap of years. Hence the Courts have to take all these aspects into consideration and weigh the evidence. The discrepancies and contradictions which do not go to the root of the matter, credence shall not be given to them. In any event, the paramount consideration of the Court must be to do substantial justice.”

[Khurshid Ahmed v. State of Jammu and Kashmir, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 529, decided on 15.05.2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar, JJ held that a public servant facing charge of criminal misconduct, cannot be comprehended to furnish any explanation in absence of the proof of the allegation of being in possession by himself or through someone else, of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income.

The bench held that the primary burden to bring home the charge of criminal misconduct is indubitably on the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the public servant either himself or through anyone else had at any time during the period of his office been in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income and it is only on the discharge of such burden by the prosecution, if he fails to satisfactorily account for the same, he would be in law held guilty of such offence.

In the case where the appellant had challenged the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order convicted him under Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 by drawing adverse inference without any conclusive proof, the Court, setting aside his conviction, said that the appellant must be given a benefit of doubt. The Court said that the prosecution, to succeed in a criminal trial, has to pitch its case beyond all reasonable doubt and lodge it in the realm of “must be true” category and not rest contended by leaving it in the domain of “may be true”. [Vasant Rao Guhe v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 893, decided on 09.08.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench comprising of L.Nageswara Rao and Navin Sinha, JJ. held that in the absence of conclusive and consistent proof of circumstantial chain of evidence which lead to the only “hypothesis of guilt” against the accused then, only circumstance of last seen cannot be made basis of conviction.

In the case where the accused were charged with rape and murder of the deceased whose severed body was found on the railway track after she was seen in the house of one of the accused persons, the Gauhati High Court held them guilty for causing death in furtherance of common intention, under Section 302/34 and for tampering with evidences, under sec 201 of Penal Code 1860 and awarded life imprisonment for the same. Prosecution relied on blood samples, postmortem certificate and last seen theory to form chain of evidence.

The Court held that there exist no conclusive proof of corroboration of statement of investigation and the blood stains found on murder weapon couldn’t be established. The Court allowed the appeal and reversed the decision of High Court, stating that last seen together cannot be the only ground for holding accused guilty, a connectivity must be established, the circumstance of “last seen together” does not by itself and necessarily lead to the inference that it was the accused who committed the crime. It further stated that due to the lack of corroborative evidence the appellants are acquitted of the charges under Section 302, 201 read with 34 Penal Code 1860. [Anjan Kumar Sharma v. State of Assam, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 622, decided on 23.05.2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: The Division Bench comprising of Surendra Vikram Singh Rathore and Anil Kumar Srivastava, JJ. held that statements given by the accused persons under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 can be used for the appreciation of evidence and can also be used for corroboration of the evidence, but the burden of the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt is not reduced to any extent. The accused had filed an appeal against the judgment and order passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Fast Track Court No. 2, Gonda, in Sessions Trial No. 177 of 2004 whereby  the appellants were convicted under Sections 147, 148, 304 and 342 of the Penal Code, 11860. The counsel for State argued on the behalf of the complainant that the accused persons have admitted the date, time and place of occurrence themselves in the statement recorded under Section  313 CrPC  and the manner in which  the whole incident  had taken place has been stated by the witnesses.

Allowing the appeals, the Court held that prosecution must stand on its own legs and cannot take advantage of the weakness in the defence case. Further, the Court on examining the features of Section 313 of the Code noted the observation of the Supreme Court in Balaji Gunthu Dhule v. State of Maharashtra, (2012) 11 SCC 685, that the statement of the accused can be used to test the accuracy of the exculpatory nature of the admission, if any, made by the accused. It can be taken into consideration in any enquiry or trial but still it is not strictly evidence in the case. [Ashok Singh v. State of U.P, 2016 SCC OnLine All 290, decided on May 26, 2016]