'Material Circumstances Not Put To Accused Under S.313 CrPC' : Supreme Court Overturns Conviction In NDPS Act Case After 22 Years
The Supreme Court recently overturned the conviction of an appellant in a case related to contraband possession due to procedural irregularities. The court held that the failure to put material circumstances while examining the appellant under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was a serious and material illegality.The Court observed “As the only material circumstances pleaded by...
The Supreme Court recently overturned the conviction of an appellant in a case related to contraband possession due to procedural irregularities. The court held that the failure to put material circumstances while examining the appellant under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was a serious and material illegality.
The Court observed “As the only material circumstances pleaded by the prosecution against the appellant were not put to him, a serious prejudice has been caused to the appellant's defense. Indeed, the appellant may not have earlier raised the issue regarding the inadequacy of examination under Section 313 of CrPC. However, in this case, the omission goes to the root of the matter regarding the appellant. According to us, it is a serious and material illegality committed by the Court as the examination of the appellant was not made under Section 313 of CrPC on the aforesaid circumstances
The Court further noted that the appellant had been in jail for more than 5 years for a case dating back to 2001, and subjecting him to further examination after would cause prejudice.
It opined “The appellant has undergone incarceration of five and a half years. If, after the lapse of more than twenty-two years, he is again subjected to examination under Section 313 of CrPC, it will cause prejudice to him. Therefore, the failure to put two relevant circumstances to the appellant in his examination under Section 313 CrPC will be fatal to the prosecution case. Hence, on this ground, we hold that the appellant’s conviction cannot be sustained.
The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Abhay S. Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal was hearing an appeal against the Punjab & Haryana HC judgment which upheld the conviction passed under Section 15 of the NDPS Act by a special judge and sentenced the appellant to 10 years rigorous imprisonment.
According to the prosecution case, Assistant Sub Inspector(ASI) Dhian Singh, acting on secret information identified parcels on platforms 4 and 6(Ambala station) containing contraband destined for Kurail Railway Station. The Railway Protection Force (R.P.F) inspected the parcels where ten bags were discovered, each containing 20 kgs of poppy straw.
After that, on 28th May 2001, Inspector Ram Phal (PW11) and Dhian Singh (PW10) visited railway station Kurail, the destination of the parcels. Krishan Dev Joshi (PW2), the station supervisor, was apprised of the facts of the case. After that, accused no. 2 – Rahish alias Munna, approached PW2 with a railway receipt concerning the parcels in question. As per the instructions of the Police, he was asked to wait. PW2 immediately informed the police. After some time, the appellant–Nababuddin alias Mallu alias Abhimanyu, approached PW2 and enquired about the same parcels. The accused no. 2, and the appellant both were arrested
Despite the contraband being recovered during transit, the Special Court ruled that those in possession of the railway receipt were deemed to have control over the illegal substances, constituting conscious possession. This finding has been confirmed by the High Court.
The case was scrutinized by the Court since key circumstances against the appellant were not presented during his examination under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
The court highlighted that the appellant, who had allegedly inquired about contraband parcels at a railway station, was not questioned about this crucial circumstance during his examination. Furthermore, the circumstance that the railway receipt was in the appellant's name was also omitted.
Summary of principles of law regarding Section 313 CrPC
The Court relied on Raj Kumar v. State (NCT of Delhi) which had summarised the principles in this regard-
- Duty to put each material circumstance specifically, distinctively, and separately- It is the duty of the trial court to put each material circumstance appearing in the evidence against the accused specifically, distinctively, and separately.
- What is material circumstance-The material circumstance means the circumstance or the material on the basis of which the prosecution is seeking his conviction
- Objective of Examination: To give the accused an opportunity to explain any circumstance that appears against them in the evidence presented during the trial.
- Courts to refrain from Material Circumstances not put to the accused
- Failure to do so a serious Irregularity: The failure to put material circumstances to the accused amounts to a serious irregularity. It will vitiate the trial if it is shown to have prejudiced the accused
- It’s a curable defect if it doesn’t result in failure of justice- However, the passage of time from the date of the incident is a factor to be considered
- Appellate Court Intervention- Even if the irregularity is curable, the appellate court has the authority to question the accused on material circumstances that were not presented to them.
- Remand to Trial Court: In a given case, the case can be remanded to the Trial Court from the stage of recording the supplementary statement of the concerned accused under Section 313 of CrPC.
- Consideration of Prejudice caused: When determining whether prejudice has been caused to the accused due to the omission of material circumstances, the delay in raising the contention is just one of several factors to be considered.”
In the present case, the court held that the two circumstances alleged against the appellant will have to be kept out of consideration. It noted that there is no other material on record to connect the appellant with the offense.
Therefore, the Court set aside the judgment of the High Court and set the appellant free.
Case title: Nababuddin @ Mallu @ Abhimanyu v. State of Haryana
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 1014