‘The accused has only to establish his defence on a preponderance of probability, after which the onus shall shift on the prosecution to establish the inapplicability of the exception.’
The Supreme Court in Devidas Loka Rathod v. State of Maharashtra has reiterated that the onus on the accused, who takes a plea of insanity, is not as stringent as on the prosecution to be established beyond all reasonable doubts but he has only to establish his defence on a preponderance of probability after which the onus shall shift on the prosecution to establish the inapplicability of the exception.
A bench of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Navin Sinha was considering an appeal against concurrent conviction by the trial court and Bombay High Court that had rejected the plea of the accused that he was of unsound mind.
The trial court had taken note of the subsequent conduct of the accused while in custody and his demeanour during the trial to conclude that he was conscious of his wrongful acts which were deliberate in nature, evident from the repeated assaults and running away from the place of occurrence after throwing the sickle.
The bench, taking note of the trial records, observed that though the FIR was registered the same day, the accused was taken in custody only two days later because he was not keeping well and had been admitted in the hospital.
In this context, the bench said: “In view of the previous history of insanity of the appellant as revealed, it was the duty of an honest investigator to subject the accused to a medical examination immediately and place the evidence before the court and if this is not done, it creates a serious infirmity in the prosecution case and the benefit of doubt has to be given to the accused.”
It further said: “The admitted facts in the present case strongly persuades us to believe that the prosecution has deliberately withheld relevant evidence with regard to the nature of the appellant’s mental illness, his mental condition at the time of assault, requiring hospitalization immediately after the assault and hindering his arrest, the diagnosis and treatment, the evidence of the treating doctor, all of which necessarily casts a doubt on the credibility of the prosecution evidence raising more than reasonable doubts about the mental condition of the appellant. Unfortunately, both the trial court and the High Court, have completely failed to consider and discuss this very important lacuna in the prosecution case, decisively crucial for determination or abjurement of the guilt of the appellant.”
The bench further observed, referring to Surendra Mishra vs. State of Jharkhand, (2011) 11 SCC 8 49, that onus on the accused, under Section 105 of the Evidence Act is not as stringent as on the prosecution to be established beyond all reasonable doubts. The accused has only to establish his defence on a preponderance of probability, after which the onus shall shift on the prosecution to establish the inapplicability of the exception, the bench added.
Perusing the records, the bench concluded that the accused is entitled to the benefit of the exception under Section 84 IPC because of the preponderance of his medical condition at the time of occurrence. “The trial judge erred in proper consideration and appreciation of evidence, virtually abjuring all such evidence available raising doubts about the mental status of the appellant at the time of commission of the offence, so as to leave his conviction as a foregone conclusion. The trial judge, unfortunately, did not consider it necessary to put further questions to P.W.14 with regard to the hospitalisation of the appellant immediately after the occurrence and why the prosecution had not placed the necessary evidence in this regard before the court. The truth therefore remained elusive, and justice thus became a casualty,” it said.