Kerala High Court: T.R.Ravi, J., held that a monosyllabic “yes” cannot amount to pleading guilty.
The petitioner was convicted by the Magistrate for allegedly obstructing the procession taken out from the Thrikkulam Government High School in connection with the school admission festival and assaulted some of the volunteers. The FIR was registered for offences under Sections 143, 147, 353 read with 149 of the IPC and Section 35 (sic) of the Kerala Prevention of Disturbances of Public Meetings Act, 1961. All accused were convicted by the Trial Court on their pleading guilty of the offences.
The judgments were challenged mainly on the ground that the procedure adopted by the Trial Court, the petitioner contended that the conviction of an accused based on his plea of guilty results in that person being convicted and punished without trial and hence the Magistrates are bound to ensure that the plea is voluntary, clear and unambiguous and is put forth after understanding the implications of such admission. The petitioner contended that he was not made aware of the consequences of his pleading guilty and the unknowing act had resulted in the petitioner being denied appointment, in spite of the inclusion of his name in the ranked list of Constable (Telecommunication).
On scrutiny of the diary extract and records received from the lower court, the Bench noticed that the accused were asked whether they had committed the offences and they answered in the negative. After a few adjournments, the cases were taken up and the question whether the accused had committed the offences was repeated, this time the accused answered ‘yes’. This answer was treated as pleading of guilt and the accused were convicted. According to Sections 240 and 241 of CrPC, conviction of an accused based on the plea of guilty is not an empty formality. The procedure prescribed has to be followed strictly, since acceptance of the plea would result in an accused being convicted without trial. The Bench clarified,
“The words ‘plea and guilty, the term ‘pleading guilty’ should be require a positive and informed act of admitting all the elements of the offence/s. Mere lip service or a monosyllabic ‘yes’, in reply to a pointed question by the court, cannot, under any circumstance, be equated with, or accepted as, pleading of guilt by the accused.”
Accordingly, the Bench issued the following guidelines to be followed before acting upon the pleading of guilt by an accused;
- “The Magistrate should frame the charge, specifying the offences alleged against the accused;
- The charge should be read over and explained to the accused;
- The accused should be asked whether he pleads guilty of the offence/s with which he is charged;
- The accused should plead guilty after understanding the seriousness of the allegations and the implications of pleading guilty. The plea should be voluntary and expressed in clear and unambiguous terms.
- The Magistrate should record the accused’s plea of guilty in the words of the accused, to the extent possible.
- The Magistrate, after considering all relevant factors should exercise his discretion and decide whether to accept the plea of guilty or not
- If the plea is accepted, the accused can be convicted and suitable punishment imposed.”
Hence, the plea of guilty should not only be recorded, but such recording should, to the extent possible, be in the words spoken by the accused.
Whether the accused can plead guilty at a later stage, i.e., after framing of charges?
In CrPC, the opportunity to plead guilty is provided only under Sections 229, 241 and 252, for Sessions, Warrant and Summons cases respectively. This opportunity arises immediately after the charge/accusation is framed/stated. In Santosh v State of Kerala, 2003 SCC OnLine Ker 93, a Single Judge had opined that the plea of guilt can be advanced by an accused at any stage of the trial after framing charge. Relevant portion of the Judgment reads as under;
“No doubt, there is no specific provision in the Cr.P.C. enabling the court to permit an accused to withdraw his claim to be tried and convict him on a plea of guilty subsequently…there is also no prohibition in the Cr.P.C. to record the plea of guilty in the course of trial and convict the accused on his subsequent admission of guilt. The object of trial is to investigate the offence and to find out the truth. When the guilt is admitted by the accused and the admission is found to be voluntary, there is no reason why the court should not allow him to withdraw his claim to be tried and plead guilty…There is no reason to restrict the applicability of S. 229 of the Cr.P.C. to a particular date or occasion but the purport of section is obvious that plea of guilt can be advanced by an accused at any stage of the trial after framing charge. If an accused is allowed to withdraw his claim to be tried and plead guilty, an earlier termination of the trial can be secured and wastage of the precious time of the court can be avoided.”
In the light of the above, the Bench held that the petitioner having pleaded not guilty at the first instance, recording of the monosyllabic answer ‘yes’ in the questionnaire prepared at the stage of framing charge, could not, under any circumstance, be termed as pleading of guilt by the petitioner, based on which the Court could have convicted him. As such, the judgments convicting the petitioner were liable to be set aside. Accordingly, the petition was allowed and the conviction order was set aside.[Raseen Babu K.M. v. State of Kerala, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 2526, decided on 08-06-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.
Appearance before the Court by:
For the Revisionist: Adv. D.Anil Kumar
For the State: PP T.R. Renjith and Sr. PP. C.S. Hrithwik