The Supreme Court has acquitted five accused in a 27-year-old murder case on the basis of serious discrepancies that arose in the evidence produced by the prosecution.
It was alleged that a land dispute, which had erupted in February 1991, had become the cause of enmity between the victims (one of whom died, while the others were seriously injured) and the accused.
A quarrel had broken out and prosecution witnesses gave evidence that the accused had caused immense bodily harm to the victims.
The accused were charged under sections 302/34 and 323,324 read with 149 of the IPC.
Based on the inconsistent evidence of prosecution witnesses with that of medical evidence and other probable circumstances, the trial court concluded that the prosecution could not prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt and, therefore, acquitted the accused from the offences charged against them.
The high court, however, found the accused guilty, thus sentencing two of them to life imprisonment, and three to imprisonment for one year, along with a fine.
The bench at the apex court, comprising Justice C Prafulla Pant and Justice NV Ramana, observed that all the prosecution witnesses were relatives and the prosecution failed to present evidence of independent witnesses for the incident, which took place on a public road in broad daylight.
Justice Ramana, speaking for the bench, was quoted as saying: “In the facts on hand, we feel that the evidence of these witnesses is filled with discrepancies, contradictions and improbable versions, which draws us to the irresistible conclusion that the evidence of these witnesses cannot be a basis to convict the accused.”
There were various latches, as pointed out by the court, in the investigation done by the investigation officer. However, the bench did emphasise that mere latches on the part of investigating officer itself cannot be a ground for acquitting the accused and the courts have to independently deal with the case and should arrive at a just conclusion, beyond reasonable doubt, based on the evidence on record.
Taking note of the various discrepancies of the evidence, the bench held: “Once there is a clear contradiction between the medical and the ocular evidence coupled with severe contradictions in the oral evidence, clear latches in investigation, then the benefit of doubt has to go to the accused.”
Allowing the appeal of the accused and setting aside the judgment of the high court, the bench held: “The Court should always make an endeavour to find the truth. A criminal offence is not only an offence against an individual but also against the society. There would be failure of justice if innocent man is punished.”
Read the Judgment here.