Friday, May 31, 2024

𝗝𝘂𝗱𝗶𝗰𝗶𝗮𝗹𝗗𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗺™

𝙰𝙵𝙵𝙾𝚁𝙳𝙰𝙱𝙻𝙴 & 𝙰𝙲𝙲𝙴𝚂𝚂𝙸𝙱𝙻𝙴

CASE LAWSCRPCLEGAL AFFAIRS

SEC 378 CRPC (GUIDELINES FOR REVERSAL OF ACQUITTAL)

Rajesh Prasad vs State of Bihar, SC 2022

FACTS – Accused Mahendra Ram, Upendra Ram, Munna Ram, Dhappu Ram, all being sons of Kishori Ram and Chandrabhanu Prasad, with two other unknown persons proceeded towards the informant viz., Rajesh Prasad (PW­7) and protested that as the informant had opposed their illegal activities, his entire family would be blown off by a bomb. Accused Munna Ram threw a bomb at the informant’s father Chhote Lal Mahto who was sitting in his betel (pan) shop. The rear portion of his father’s head was blown off leading to his death. Accused Mahendra Ram threw another bomb against O.P. Verma and as a result thereof, his head was blown away and he died on the spot. Further, Upendra Ram hurled another bomb which missed injuring anyone else and exploded on the road. Then accused Chandrabhanu and Dappu Ram stated that they would proceed from there as their job had been completed and they tried to flee from the spot, but the furious public caught hold of an unknown person and assaulted him as a result of which he was seriously injured and he died. The accused, while fleeing away, threatened that their action was a result of opposition by the informant against the illicit sale of liquor by them and if anyone again obstructed their business, they would face similar consequences. Accused­ Chandrabhanu Prasad helped the accused­ Munna Ram to flee from the spot.

On receipt of the said information, a case was registered at Kotawali PS under sections 302/34, 120B of IPC and section 3/4 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 against the accused.

The Chief Judicial Magistrate, Munger, took cognizance of the alleged offences against the accused and committed the case to the Court of Sessions after complying with the provision of section 207 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Court of Additional District & Sessions Judge, Fast Track Court­ V, Munger, vide its judgment convicted the respondents, Upendra Ram, Mahendra Ram and Munna Ram.

The Fast Track Court sentenced Upendra Ram to undergo imprisonment for life with fine of Rs.5000/­ and in default of payment of fine he was further to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one year for the offence under section 302/34 read with section 120B of the Indian Penal Code and also sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one year for offence under section 504 of IPC and further sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for ten years each for the offence under section 3/4 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 and ordered that the sentences run concurrently.

The Fast Track Court sentenced the accused viz., Munna Ram and Mahendra Ram to death under sections 302/34 read with section 120B of IPC and sections 3/4 of Explosive Substances Act, 1908, subject to confirmation by the High Court.

The Fast Track Court however acquitted the other accused viz., Fantus Mandal, Dhappu Ram and Chandrabhanu Prasad.

  

CAUSEHigh Court of Judicature at Patna by which the judgment of conviction and order of sentence passed by the Additional District & Sessions Judge, Fast Track Court­ V, Munger, has been set aside and by accordingly answering the Death Reference and consequently acquitting all the accused.

ARGUMENTSAppellant’s counsel submitted that the High Court was not right in setting aside the judgment of conviction and sentence passed by the Fast­Track Court, thereby acquitting the accused. She drew attention to the evidence of PWs 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10 and contended that the same would clearly establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. However, the High Court has not appreciated the case of the appellant herein in its proper perspective and has set aside the judgment of the Fast­Track Court. The appellant­informant PW­7 who is one of the sons of the deceased Chhote Lal Mahto had clearly stated in the complaint and also in his deposition about the culpability of the accused which has not been properly appreciated by the High Court.

Learned counsel appearing for the respondents­ accused supported the judgment of the High Court and contended that the High Court has rightly perceived and assessed the evidence on record and as a result reversed the erroneous judgment of the Fast­Track Court. It was submitted that the Fast­Track Court failed to note that the evidence on record did not prove the case of the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt vis­à­vis the accused and despite that death penalty had been imposed on two of the accused and life imprisonment on another accused which has been rightly reversed by the High Court by a reasoned judgment.

ISSUE – Whether the High Court was justified in reversing the judgment of conviction and sentence awarded by the Fast­Track Court. (inter alia)

  

DECISION – The circumstances under which an appeal would be entertained by this Court from an order of acquittal passed by a High Court may be summarized as follows:

A) Ordinarily, this Court is cautious in interfering with an order of acquittal, especially when the order of acquittal has been confirmed upto the High Court. It is only in rarest of rare cases, where the High Court, on an absolutely wrong process of reasoning and a legally erroneous and perverse approach to the facts of the case, ignoring some of the most vital facts, has acquitted the accused, that the same may be reversed by this Court, exercising jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution. [State of U.P. v. Sahai, AIR 1981 SC 1442]

Such fetters on the right to entertain an appeal are prompted by the reluctance to expose a person, who has been acquitted by a competent court of a criminal charge, to the anxiety and tension of a further examination of the case, even though it is held by a superior court. [Arunachalam v. Sadhananthan, AIR 1979 (SC) 1284]

An appeal cannot be entertained against an order of acquittal which has, after recording valid and weighty reasons, has arrived at an unassailable, logical conclusion which justifies acquittal. [State of Haryana v. Lakhbir Singh, (1990) CrLJ 2274 (SC)]

  

B) However, this Court has on certain occasions, set aside the order of acquittal passed by a High Court. The circumstances under which this Court may entertain an appeal against an order of acquittal and pass an order of conviction, may be summarised as follows:

i) Where the approach or reasoning of the High Court is perverse: a) Where incontrovertible evidence has been rejected by the High Court based on suspicion and surmises, which are rather unrealistic. [State of Rajasthan v. Sukhpal Singh, AIR 1984 SC 207]

For example, where direct, unanimous accounts of the eye­witnesses, were discounted without cogent reasoning; [State of UP v. Shanker, AIR 1981 SC 879]

b) Where the intrinsic merits of the testimony of relatives, living in the same house as the victim, were discounted on the ground that they were ‘interested’ witnesses; [State of UP v. Hakim Singh, AIR 1980 SC 184]

c) Where testimony of witnesses had been disbelieved by the High Court, on an unrealistic conjecture of personal motive on the part of witnesses to implicate the accused, when in fact, the witnesses had no axe to grind in the said matter. [State of Rajasthan v. Sukhpal Singh, AIR 1984 SC 207]

d) Where dying declaration of the deceased victim was rejected by the High Court on an irrelevant ground that they did not explain the injury found on one of the persons present at the site of occurrence of the crime. [Arunachalam v. Sadhanantham, AIR 1979 SC 1284]

e) Where the High Court applied an unrealistic standard of ‘implicit proof’ rather than that of ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ and therefore evaluated the evidence in a flawed manner. [State of UP v. Ranjha Ram, AIR 1986 SC 1959]

f) Where the High Court rejected circumstantial evidence, based on an exaggerated and capricious theory, which were beyond the plea of the accused; [State of Maharashtra v. ChampalalPunjaji Shah, AIR 1981 SC 1675] or where acquittal rests merely in exaggerated devotion tothe rule of benefit of doubt in favour of the accused. [Gurbachan v. Satpal Singh, AIR 1990 SC 209].

g) Where the High Court acquitted the accused on the ground that he had no adequate motive to commit the offence, although, in the said case, there was strong direct evidence establishing the guilt of the accused, thereby making it unnecessary on the part of the prosecution to establish ‘motive.’ [State of AP v. Bogam Chandraiah, AIR 1986 SC 1899]

  

ii) Where acquittal would result is gross miscarriage of justice: a) Where the findings of the High Court, disconnecting the accused persons with the crime, were based on a perfunctory consideration of evidence, [State of UP v. Pheru Singh, AIR 1989 SC 1205] or based on extenuating circumstances which were purely based in imagination and fantasy. [State of Uttar Pradesh v. Pussu 1983 AIR 867 (SC)]

b) Where the accused had been acquitted on ground of delay in conducting trial, which delay was attributable not to the tardiness or indifference of the prosecuting agencies, but to the conduct of the accused himself; or where accused had been acquitted on ground of delay in conducting trial relating to an offence which is not of a trivial nature. [State of Maharashtra v. ChampalalPunjaji Shah, AIR 1981 SC 1675]

The High Court had also noted flaws in the investigation of the case and in the evidence of the prosecution witnesses which are culled out as under:
(i) PW­7 said that PW­4 drew up the written report while PW­4 denied the same.
(ii) While PW­1 and PW­3 were related to the deceased and signed the seizure list immediately after the occurrence, yet PW­3 had stated that he was not aware of the other signatory to the seizure list.
(iii) The statement of PW­1, who was a witness to the seizure list as well as an eyewitness , was recorded by the police one and half months later with no explanation either by the witness or by the police.
(iv) Similarly, statement of PW­4 who is an eyewitness and a witness to the inquest report of the deceased and who is stated to have drawn up the written report given to the police, was recorded by the police after two months and twenty days. The High Court has noted that there is no explanation for the delay, though he could be presumed to be present at the Police Station when the written report was handed over to the Police.
(v) PW­2, the shop owner of the PCO booth adjoining the betel shop of the deceased, was also allegedly injured during the occurrence but there is no injury report.
(vi) The contradiction in the evidence of PW­3 is noted as under :
”That PW­3 has stated that the police came within 20 to 25 minutes and took the statement of the informant, PW3 and others, but he has stated that PW­7 gave written report to the police at 9 p.m., that he was sleeping at that time and unaware about it yet he stated that the report may have been given at 8.30 p.m. PW­7 on the other hand has stated that the written report was given to the police at 6 p.m., at the police station and had denied of having given any report to the police at 9 p.m. On the other hand, PW9 who is IO in the matter stated that PW­7 gave him the written report immediately after he reached the place of occurrence.”
(vii) While the prosecution witnesses alleged throwing of three or more bombs, the Investigating Officer stated that he found signs only of two explosions; first one being at the betel shop of the deceased and the second one near M/s Aditya Electronics.

The Fast Track Court has failed to appreciate the evidence of PWs­1, 3, 4 and 7 in their proper perspective and has further failed to recognise the fact that PW­7/the appellant herein did not at all support the case of the prosecution although he was the informant and hence, erroneously convicted the accused and sentenced two of them with death penalty and the third accused with imprisonment for life.

SC held that in our view, the High Court was, therefore, justified in reversing the judgment and order of conviction passed by the Fast­Track Court.

It is also noted that the State has not filed any appeal against the judgment and order of acquittal passed by the High Court.

Having re­appreciated the evidence of the witnesses, we find that the High Court was justified in reversing the judgment of conviction and sentencing the two of the accused, namely Munna Ram and Mahendra Ram with death penalty and imposing Upendra Ram to undergo life imprisonment and instead acquitting all the accused.

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