Murder Trial - Credible Testimony Of A Single Eyewitness Sufficient To Prove Case Beyond Reasonable Doubt : Supreme Court
The Supreme Court, recently, observed that testimony of a sole eyewitness can be worthy of credence for the prosecution to establish its case beyond reasonable doubt, even in cases involving several accused.A Bench comprising Justice B.R. Gavai, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Sanjay Karol upheld the decision of the Courts below to convict and sentence eight accused persons, primarily on...
The Supreme Court, recently, observed that testimony of a sole eyewitness can be worthy of credence for the prosecution to establish its case beyond reasonable doubt, even in cases involving several accused.
A Bench comprising Justice B.R. Gavai, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Sanjay Karol upheld the decision of the Courts below to convict and sentence eight accused persons, primarily on the testimony of a sole witness. It noted that the conviction of eight persons can be based on solitary evidence, especially when there is no vagueness in their testimony with respect to the role ascribed to each one of the accused.
The deceased was murdered in broad daylight. A report was lodged. After recovering the body, the Investigating Officer sent it for post mortem. The post mortem report reflected that the deceased had sustained 21 stab injuries of serious nature. The Trial Court convicted the eight accused persons, who were distant cousins of the deceased, and sentenced them to undergo life imprisonment. During the course of the trial most of the prosecution witnesses had turned hostile. Yet, the Trial Court was of the opinion that the prosecution’s case has been proved beyond reasonable doubt, primarily based on the unrefuted testimony of one prosecution witness (complainant) and the supporting evidence of a hostile witness. The High Court affirmed the conviction and sentence imposed by the High Court. Three of the accused approached the Supreme Court in appeal.
Whether on the basis of testimony of a solitary witness, eight men can be allowed to suffer incarceration for life?
Analysis by the Supreme Court
The Court noted that ordinarily in exercise of power under Article 136 of the Constitution of India, it would not interfere with concurrent findings of facts, except in special circumstances or when there is gross error by the courts below. While adjudicating on the issue concerned, the Court referred to a catena of judgments dealing with evidence of hostile witness; effects of omissions, deficiencies; reliance on single witness; testimony of close relative; preponderance of probabilities; delay in sending FIR; last seen theory; cases involving several accused persons; power of court of appeal; power of Supreme Court under Article 136.
According to the Court, merely because most of the witnesses have turned hostel is not a ground in itself to reject evidence of the complainant. It was not inclined to accept the argument that the conviction of the eight accused persons on the basis of solitary evidence, who is also an interested witness (brother of deceased) is not justified, moreso when there was no vagueness in the testimony with respect to the role ascribed to each of the accused persons. Simply because the complaint was not drafted by the complainant, but by an advocate, it would not cast doubt on the prosecution's case. It observed that when the number or the presence of the accused was not disputed, it was not possible to interfere with the decision of the courts below.
The Court referred to its judgment in Karunakaran v. State of Tamil Nadu and Sadhuram v. State of Rajasthan, wherein it had held that if a witness is absolutely reliable then conviction based upon their testimony cannot be said to be infirm. Again, in Bhagwan Jagannath Markad v. State of Maharashtra and Harbans Kaur v. State of Haryana the Apex Court had held that a witness being a close relative is not a ground enough to reject their testimony. While affirming the conviction and sentence held by the Courts below, the Apex Court in the present case noted a word of caution, the trial court is the best court to decide, as no straightjacket formula can be made on the assessment of a witness, as the journey towards the truth can be seen better through the eyes of the trial judge.
Ravasaheb @ Ravasahebgouda Etc. v. State of Karnataka| 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 225 |Criminal Appeal Nos. 1109-1110 of 2010| 16th March, 2013| Justice B.R. Gavai, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Sanjay Karol