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Kerala High Court Issues Guidelines To Be Followed By Courts Before Acting Upon The "Pleading of Guilty" By An Accused

HANNAH MARY VARGHESE
8 Jun 2021 12:51 PM GMT
Kerala High Court Issues Guidelines To Be Followed By Courts Before Acting Upon The Pleading of Guilty By An Accused
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A Single Bench of the Kerala High Court while reversing the conviction imposed upon the petitioner on Tuesday, issued a set of guidelines to be followed in cases of an accused pleading guilty for the offences charged against him. This criminal revision petition was filed by Raseen Babu KM, represented by Adv. D. Anil Kumar, against the order of the Judicial First Class Magistrate...

A Single Bench of the Kerala High Court while reversing the conviction imposed upon the petitioner on Tuesday, issued a set of guidelines to be followed in cases of an accused pleading guilty for the offences charged against him.

This criminal revision petition was filed by Raseen Babu KM, represented by Adv. D. Anil Kumar, against the order of the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court -1, Parappanagadi convicting him u/s 35 of Kerala Prevention of Disturbances of Public Meetings Act for obstructing the procession for a school admission festival and assaulting certain volunteers involved.

The petition contends that the trial court convicted the petitioner of the above offences solely upon pleading guilty. It is alleged that this procedure adopted by the Magistrate was patently illegal. The elaborate procedure prescribed in Sections 240 and 241 CrPC makes it clear that conviction of an accused based on the plea of guilty is not an empty formality.

Consequently, the Courts are hereupon mandated to comply with the following requirements before acting upon the plea of guilty of an accused;

  • The Magistrate should frame the charge, specifying the offences alleged against the accused.
  • Such charge should be read over and explained to the accused.
  • The accused should be asked whether he pleads guilty of the offences charged against him.
  • The accused should plead guilty after understanding the seriousness of allegations and the implications of pleading guilty. The plea should be voluntary and expressed in clear and unambiguous terms.
  • The Magistrate should record the plea of guilty in the words of the accused, to the extent possible.
  • The Magistrate should exercise his discretion and decide whether to accept the plea of guilty after considering all relevant factors
  • If the plea is accepted, the accused can be convicted and suitable punishment may be imposed.

Justice V.G Arun observed that the plea was recorded quite casually. This comes after a patent defect was detected upon examination of the questionnaire of replies given by the accused. Section 243 CrPC mandates that the admission of the accused has to be recorded in the words used by him. However, it was noted that while the accused answered 'yes' when asked if they had committed the alleged offences, the petitioner's answer was not entered in the said questionnaire.

A Monosyllabic 'Yes' Does Not Amount To A Plea Of Guilty

To arrive at this conclusion, the Court looked into the legal meaning of the words 'plea' and 'guilty'. While 'plead' was considered to mean, inter alia, 'to make, deliver, or file any pleading', the term 'guilty' was defined as having committed a crime or tort.

Accordingly, it was decided that 'pleading guilty' requires a positive and informed act of admitting to all the elements of the offence. This implies that a plea should be voluntary, clear and unambiguous and put forth after understanding the implications of such admission.

Mere lip service or a monosyllabic 'yes', in response to a question by the court cannot be accepted as pleading of guilt by the accused, since it does not satisfy the aforementioned requirements. Such an observation has been made since conviction of an accused merely based on his plea of guilty results in conviction and penalty without a trial.

An Accused, Who Pleaded Not Guilty At The Stage Of Framing Charge Can Plead Guilty At A Later Stage

In Santosh v State of Kerala (2003(2) Crimrs 141), a Single Judge has opined that the plea of guilt can be advanced by an accused at any stage of the trial after framing charge. 

But Justice VG Arun in this case observed that the dictum in Santhosh requires reconsideration in the light of the subsequent introduction of Chapter XXIA to the Code vide Act 2 of 2006, providing for plea bargaining before the court in which the offence is 'pending trial'. 

The petitioner in this case had pleaded not guilty at the first instance. After several adjournments, upon being asked again if he had committed the alleged offences, he pleaded guilty. This cannot be considered as pleading of guilt by the petitioner, and the trial court has erred in convicting him on this regard.

As such, the judgments convicting and sentencing the petitioner were set aside.

Click Here To Download/Read Order


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