Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Sadhana S. Jadhav and N.J. Jamadar, JJ., while addressing the present matter, expressed that:

Where the prosecution succeeds in discharging its primary burden and brings evidence on record which indicates that the facts, thereby proved, rest within the special knowledge of the accused, Section 106 of the Evidence Act comes into play.

Suspicion, however strong, cannot take the place of proof.

Factual Matrix

Accused-Appellant has challenged the decision of the Additional Sessions Judge, wherein he was convicted for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the Penal Code, 1860 for having committed the murder of his wife Sunita (the deceased).

The accused harassed and ill-treated the deceased on suspecting fidelity of the deceased. The deceased and accused shifted to Beghar Vasti wherein they erected a temporary shed adjacent to the house of the first informant. Later the accused and deceased desired to erect a shed with a thatched roof.

To erect the shed with a thatched roof, both the accused and deceased went to the field in order to collect a wooden log. The first informant also went to the fieLd to graze the goats, wherein he saw that the deceased was lying near a mango tree and her clothes were stained with blood. However, first informant did not find the accused in the vicinity of the said spot. Thus, he suspected that the accused to have done so, after which he lodged a report.

 During the investigation, it was found that the deceased was carrying six months pregnancy and the said occurrence resulted in the death of quick unborn child as well. The accused came to be arrested.

Additional Sessions Judge framed charge against the accused of the offences punishable under Sections 302 and 316 of the IPC.

After the trial, offence for Section 316 IPC was not established against the accused, though he came to be convicted under Section 302 IPC.

Aggrieved with the above, present appeal was preferred.

Analysis and Decision

Bench noted that the fact that the accused did not offer any explanation regarding the circumstances in which he parted the company with the deceased and how the deceased sustained those fatal injuries weighed with the Additional Sessions, Judge.

In the context of the marital relationship between the deceased and the accused and the indisputable fact that they were residing at Khatgun along with the first informant, the “last seen theory” constitutes the linchpin of the prosecution case. 

Court added that the fact that the deceased was found beneath the mango tree in the said field, within a couple of hours of the accused and the deceased having left the house, can also be said to have been proved beyond the shadow of doubt.

Further, since there has been ample evidence to indicate that the first informant found the deceased lying in a motionless state with fatal injuries and when she raised alarm, the prosecution witnesses, Dharam Pawar (PW-6) and Sushila Pawar (PW-9) went to the scene of occurrence and found the deceased lying beneath the mango tree.

Adding to the above, Court also stated that in any event, the interval of time between the accused and the deceased leaving together their home and the deceased having been found dead in the field ‘Kolki’, did not exceed three hours.

It is trite law that the ‘last seen’ theory comes into play when the time gap between the point of time when the accused and the deceased were last seen alive and when the deceased is found dead, is so small that the possibility of any person other than the accused being the perpetrator of the offence, is inconceivable.

In view of the above law and facts of the case, Court held that the prosecution succeeded in establishing that the accused and the deceased were “last seen together”.

Nature of the death

The nature of the injuries found on the person of the deceased and the attendant circumstances are of determinative significance. Bench stated that the injuries found on the person of the deceased were on accessible and elective parts i.e. wrist and neck.

It is true that the accused did not endeavour to offer an explanation as regards the circumstances in which the deceased suffered the aforesaid injuries, when confronted with the incriminating material.

The question that triggers in the above circumstances is whether the failure to offer the explanation is sufficient to fasten the liability on the accused?

In the circumstances of the present case, in the absence of any positive evidence, motive to eliminate the deceased cannot be attributed to the accused on the premise that, before the accused and the deceased shifted to Khatgaun, their marital life was afflicted with discord.

Accused having changed the clothes with a view to conceal the fact that the clothes which he wore at the time of occurrence were stained with blood, is not of conclusive tendency and incriminating nature. Admittedly, the accused was found in an injured condition. Wounds were found on both the wrists and neck of the accused.

Adding to the above, Court expressed that the accused had visible injuries, on his person, when he was apprehended. The presence of bloodstains on the clothes of the accused, which he wore on the day of occurrence, therefore, cannot be construed as an incriminating circumstance.

Though prosecution made an endeavour to draw home the point that the accused had self-inflicted the above-stated injuries overcome by the feeling of guilt. Bench found it hazardous to draw an inference that the said attempt on the part of the accused to cause injuries to himself was due to the fact that the accused was overcome by the guilt, as held by the Additional Sessions Judge.

What emerges from the above discussion?

From all the above discussion, Court observed that there has been clear evidence of ‘last seen’ and the death of the deceased within a couple of hours of the deceased and the accused having been last seen together.

The wounds found on the person of the deceased especially the situs, elective parts, and nature were suggestive of suicidal infliction.

As the fundamental fact of the deceased having met a homicidal death itself is in the corridor of uncertainty.

In Court’s opinion, the circumstance of ‘last seen’, and the failure of the accused to offer a plausible explanation, on their own, were not sufficient to sustain the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

Section 106 of the Evidence Act does not relieve the prosecution of its general or  primary burden of establishing the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

 Supreme Court’s decision in Sawal Das v. State of Bihar, (1974) 4 SCC 193 was also referred for the above purpose.

Propositions that emerged from the above discussion:

  • If an accused is last seen with the deceased, he must offer an explanation as to how and when he parted company with the deceased.
  • The failure of the accused to offer a reasonable explanation in discharge of the said burden provides an additional link in the chain of circumstances proved against the accused.

In the present matter, homicidal nature of the death was not established and the prosecution case rested upon the circumstance of “last seen” to a great extent.

With regard to the legal position in respect to sustaining the guilt on the only circumstances of “last seen”, Court referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Dharam Deo v. State of U.P., (2007) 3 SCC 755.

Hence, Bench held that circumstance of ‘last seen’, in the totality of circumstances, cannot sustain the burden of establishing the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, especially when the fact of homicidal death is in the realm of uncertainty.

High Court concluded its decision by referring to the decision in Navaneethakrishnan v. State, (2018) 16 SCC 161, wherein the legal position in the context of sustaining conviction on the basis of circumstantial evidence was expounded.

Conviction under Section 302 IPC could not sustained in view of the above discussion. [Krishna Mahadev Chavan v. State of  Maharashtra, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 191, decided on 12-02-2021]


Advocates who represented the parties:

Aashish Satpute, Advocate appointed by Court for appellant.

S.R. Agarkar, APP for respondent-State.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of R.D. Dhanuka and Surendra P. Tavade, JJ., upheld the trial court’s decision based on circumstantial evidence of a woman murdering her newly born female child.

Appellant has filed the present appeal against the judgment passed by the Additional Sessions Judge by which she was convicted for the offence punishable under Section 302 of Penal Code, 1860. Appellant has been acquitted for Section 317 IPC — Exposure and abandonment of child under twelve yearsby parent or person having care of it.

Facts of the Case

Informant while going to attend his duty saw a newly born female child lying beside the road, alive and lodged a complaint regarding this at the Uran police station.

PW11 in the meanwhile reached the spot and took the child to his house wherein his mother PW-6 bathed the child and later reported the matter to the police.

Later the police made enquiry with Hirabai who informed that she saw the appellant as pregnant, therefore police called the appellant.

Police took the child, appellant and Hirabai to the hospital wherein the child and appellant were allotted Cot No. 4. After a few hours, nurse found out that the child was movementless and on examining the child it was found that the child was dead.

In the postmortem report, it was found that the child died due to strangulation. Hence, crime no. 89 of 1993 was registered against the appellant.

Appellant was put under arrest and charge sheet was filed under Sections 317 and 302 IPC.

Trial Court on going through the evidence of record acquitted the appellant under Section 317 IPC but convicted her for the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC.

Circumstantial Evidence

When the case is based on circumstantial evidence, the motive plays a vital role. Generally, motive remains in the mind of the culprit, so it is difficult to prove it. The motive can be proved by circumstances of the case and the acts of the culprit.

In view of the circumstances of the present matter, it is clear that the custody of the child was with the appellant at the time of the death of the child.

The crucial circumstance against the appellant/accused is that she was having custody of the child in the hospital and ultimately child found dead on Cot No.4; so the effect of an acquittal of the appellant/accused under Section 317 of the Indian Penal Code would not come in the way of the prosecution to hold her guilty under Section 302 of the IPC.

It would have been a shame for the appellant/accused and the delivery of child would have affected her character since she was a widow for 8 years. Hence, the appellant/accused had a motive to done away with the life of the child

Homicidal Death

Prosecution has proved all the circumstances namely the abandonment of child, the good physical condition of the child prior to the death, the child was in possession of appellant/accused since the child was referred to the Rural Hospital, Uran. The prosecution has proved the homicidal death of the child.

Hence the Court concluded that chain of circumstances against the appellant was also proved beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt.

“There was nobody else except the appellant to commit murder of the said child.”

In view of the above circumstances, the appeal was dismissed. [Kamlabai Tukaram Gharat v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 850, decided on 11-08-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Rajasthan High Court: A Division Bench of Sandeep Mehta and Kumari Prabha Sharma, JJ., dismissed the allegations of dowry demand, cruelty against the father-in-law and husband of the deceased in view of the prosecution theory regarding homicidal death being nothing short of sheer exaggeration.

An appeal was preferred by the accused-appellants under Section 374(2) CrPC against the decision of Additional Sessions Judge (Women Atrocities Cases), Bikaner.

Deceased was married to appellant 1 for 10 years. On one fateful day she was found dead in the kitchen with burn injuries, whereupon her brother, PW.1 lodged.

Humiliated and Harassed

Allegations were placed that the deceased was harassed from the date of her marriage till death on account of dowry demand.

Both the father-in-law and husband of the deceased under the influence of liquor used to maltreat her owing to the demand for money.

The unjust demands of the above-stated persons used to be somehow met but the greed would never end.

PW1 also stated that when he saw his sister dead, both the husband and deceased’s father-in-law kept uttering the words that they had killed the woman and he could do whatever he liked. 

In view of the above, offences under Section 302, 498A and 34 of Penal Code, 1860 were filed.

Later, both the husband and father-in-law were arrested.

Analysis and Decision

Bench on perusal of the facts and circumstances of the matter stated that, if at all there was a semblance of truth in the allegation that the maltreatment of the deceased was continuing for almost 10 years, then her maternal relatives were expected to raise this issue by filing a complaint either to the police and if not, then at least intervention of the community elders would definitely have been sought.

Adding to the above, maternal neer reprimanded the cruel behaviour of the accused.

Hence, the allegations levelled by the prosecution witnesses that the accused were indulged in meting out continuous maltreatment to the deceased on account of demand of dowry is nothing short of sheer exaggeration and needs to be discarded.

Further, it was duly established that the father-in-law of the deceased had invested significant amounts from the sale proceeds of his agricultural land in the names of his granddaughters before the incident, which makes it clear that the allegation of humiliation and harassment is unsubstantiated.

On perusal of the medical report of the deceased, Court noted that the injuries were on the front, but the prosecution theory states that the deceased was set ablaze, if the said theory was true then the kerosene would have dribbled on the front as well as back, hence the defence theory of deceased falling down on the burning place in probablised.

In view of the above-stated background, the reverse burden of proof under Section 106 of the Evidence Act would also not come to the aid of the otherwise fragile and fragmented prosecution case.

Therefore, the accused-appellants were acquitted of all the charges.[Gopal v. State of Rajasthan, DB Criminal Appeal No. 799 of 2014, decided on 06-08-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of M.G. Sewlikar and T.V. Nalawade, JJ., upheld the decision of the trial court to convict the accused under Section 302 of Penal Code and held that,

“ A person who pours kerosene on someone and sets him on fire has no right to say that he had no knowledge that this act of his would cause death or would cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.”

The present appeal was preferred against the conviction under Sections 302, 323 and 506 of Penal Code, 1860.

Facts

Appellant/accused was a liquor addict and one evening when he came to home, the deceased (wife) asked him why he consumed liquor after which the appellant/accused abused her and said that he would get rid of her.

On the night of the above-stated incident, when the deceased and her son went off to sleep, accused/appellant poured kerosene on the deceased and ignited the match stick and threw it at her and ran out of the house. Thereupon, accused/appellant poured water on her and extinguished the fire.

Two dying declarations were recorded wherein the deceased stated the same story as above, after which offences under Sections 307, 323, 504 and 506 of IPC were registered. Offence was converted under Section 302 of Penal Code as the deceased breathed her last.

Analysis

Sessions Judge found that both the dying declarations were voluntary and truthful.

“Principle on which dying declaration is admitted in evidence is based on the legal maxim “Nemo Moriturus Praesumitur Mentire”: i.e. the man will not meet his maker with a lie in his mouth. It is based on the principle that in the face of death, all the worldly aspirations of a man do not exist. It is unlikely that a person who is on death bed would falsely implicate an innocent.”

Principles of governing the dying declaration are enumerated in the case of Paniben v. State of Gujarat, (1992) 2 SCC 474.

Law on the dying declaration is that if the Court is satisfied that the dying declaration is true and made voluntarily by the deceased, conviction can be based solely on it, without any further corroboration. When the dying declaration suffers from some infirmity, it cannot alone form the basis of conviction.

Dying declaration is enshrined in Section 32 of the Evidence Act as an exception to the general rule contained in Section 60 of the Evidence Act.

Court noted that the dying declaration was recorded and signed by the victim when the doctor declared her to be in a fit state to do so. Thus, both the dying declarations appear to be truthful and voluntary.

Bench observed that, accused had failed to explain the circumstances in which the incident occurred. Prosecution proved both the dying declarations. It also proved the presence of the accused at the time of incident and also proved that kerosene was detected on the clothes of the accused.

Having regard to the above, trial court did not commit any error in placing reliance on both the dying declarations and recording the conviction against the accused under Section 302 of IPC.

Counsel Shri Chatterji for the accused had contended that the accused had no intention of doing the said act i.e. the intention to murder as he had poured water on the person of the deceased soon after she was engulfed by fire.

For the above argument, Court stated that,

The act is so inherently dangerous that a man of ordinary intelligence can also contemplate that setting a person on fire would entail death or would cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.

Thus, the High Court on noting the above held that the prosecution has proved that the death is homicidal. Bench also cited the Supreme Court’ decision in Suraj Jagannath Jadhav v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1608, wherein it was held that,

“Even assuming that the accused had no intention to cause the death of the deceased, the act of the accused falls under clause Fourthly of Section 300 IPC that is the act of causing injury so imminently dangerous where it will in all probability cause death.”

Hence, in view of the above, appeal is dismissed. [Navin Bhimrao Bansode v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 284, decided on 17-02-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of Surendra P. Tavade and Ranjit More, JJ., while dealing with a case in regard to homicidal death upheld the decision of the trial court which was in challenge before the Bench.

In the present case, appellant preferred the appeal against the Judgment passed by Additional Sessions Judge wherein the appellant was charged for the offence punishable under Section 302 of Penal Code, 1860.

Facts

Informant who was the brother-in-law of the deceased had given his two-wheeler to the deceased on his request as he had to visit the appellant’s factory. Deceased had informed the informant that he would return back within a short period. But on failure of his return, informant inquired the workers of the factory about the deceased’s visit and came to know that the deceased did not visit the factory that evening.

Later on the next day of the said event, the informant received a call from appellant’s father-in-law who further informed him that appellant had killed Zuber (deceased) and had locked the shutter of his factory. On receiving the said information, informant enquired the same with the accused who confessed the same.

Thereafter, informant took the appellant to the Police Station and further appellant took the police to the factory where he had killed Zuber and directed towards his dead body. Appellant was arrested and after the completion of trial was punished under Section 302 IPC.

Trial Court relied on the extra-judicial confessions along with the circumstantial evidence.

Contentions

Advocate Subhash Jha, represented the appellant and submitted that extra-judicial confession is a weak type of evidence. To corroborate the extra-judicial confession no other circumstances were proved. The entire prosecution case was based on circumstantial evidence. Hence he prayed for acquittal for the appellant.

J.P. Yagnik, APP for the Respondent-State, submitted that, Subsequent conduct of the appellant of showing remorse for his acts and all the other facts stated above supported the extra-judicial confession.

For a crime to be proved, it is not necessary that the crime must be seen to have been committed and must in all circumstances to be proved by direct, ocular evidence, by examining before the Court those persons who had seen its commission. Thus offence can be proved by circumstantial evidence also.

Reference to the decision in Sharad Birdhi Chand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra, (1984) 4 SCC 116 was made, wherein while dealing with circumstantial evidence it was held that, onus was on the prosecution to prove that the chain is complete and the infirmity of lacuna in the prosecution cannot be cured by a false defense or plea.

Another significant point to be noted in the present case, medical officer categorically opined that death is not due to strangulation, but by throttling; so there is no doubt regarding the cause of death of the deceased. Thus it rightly proved the homicidal death of the deceased.

Decision

High Court on perusal of the facts and circumstances of the case noted that prosecution established the homicidal death of the deceased. Appellant had made voluntary extra-judicial confessions which were corroborated by other circumstances namely taking the police and witnesses to the premise where the incident occurred.

Thus, the prosecution proved the chain of circumstances that lead to the homicidal death of the deceased, said circumstances unerringly pointed out the guilt of the appellant.

Hence trial court had rightly held the appellant guilty and in view of such findings, the High Court dismissed the appeal. [Mohammad Ismail Noormohammad Madana v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 238, decided on 12-02-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gauhati High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Suman Shyam and A.M. Buzor Baruah, JJ., altered the conviction and sentence of the appellant from that under Section 302 to Section 304 Part II of Penal Code, 1860.

The appellant was convicted for the homicidal death of his father-in-law. It was alleged that the appellant hacked the deceased to death with an axe. On receiving information, an FIR was registered under Section 302 against the petitioner. The appellant was tried and convicted by the trial court and sentenced to life imprisonment. The appellant filed the instant appeal against the said order. It is worth mentioning that conviction of the appellant was based on testimonies of eye-witnesses as well as the wife of the deceased (mother-in-law of the petitioner).

The High Court considered the record as well as submissions made by the parties. The Court noted that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses indeed proved that the death of the deceased was homicidal. The Court perused the testimonies of the witnesses and was of the opinion that the wife (CW 1) of the deceased was a material witness. Her testimony, according to the Court, was most important. It was noted that in her testimony, CW 1 had stated that there was a dispute between the appellant and the deceased over a sum of Rs. 1000. Also, there was an ongoing fight between both of them that started the previous day. The Court also noted that the eye-witnesses also stated that at the time of the incident, there was a fight between the appellant and the deceased who was also holding a bamboo stick. Further, although the appellant was equipped with an axe, he did not use the sharp edge of it while assaulting the deceased. In such circumstances, the High Court was of the opinion that it was a case where the act was committed in a fit of anger; the existence of a grave and sudden provocation could not be ruled out. Accordingly, the Court while upholding the finding of guilt against the accused, modified his conviction as stated above. Also, the sentence was modified from that of life to seven years imprisonment. [Joyram Kerkata v. State of Assam,2018 SCC OnLine Gau 643, dated 25-6-2018]