23 Sep 2023 6:49 AM GMT
The Supreme Court recently expressed exasperation at having to acquit three accused persons in a case of murder and kidnapping due to glaring lapses in police investigation. Two of the accused persons were awarded death penalty, which the Supreme Court overturned.The Court remarked that the "the manner in which the police tailored their investigation, with complete indifference to the...
The Supreme Court recently expressed exasperation at having to acquit three accused persons in a case of murder and kidnapping due to glaring lapses in police investigation. Two of the accused persons were awarded death penalty, which the Supreme Court overturned.
The Court remarked that the "the manner in which the police tailored their investigation, with complete indifference to the essential norms in proceeding against the accused and in gathering evidence; leaving important leads unchecked and glossing over other leads that did not suit the story that they had conceived; and, ultimately, in failing to present a cogent, conceivable and fool-proof chain of events" left it with no option but to give the benefit of doubt to the accused.
In this backdrop, the Court highlighted the need for a code of investigation, which will lay out the mandatory procedure for the police to follow, so that guilty persons will not secure acquittals on grounds of technical flaws.
"It is high time, perhaps, that a consistent and dependable code of investigation is devised with a mandatory and detailed procedure for the police to implement and abide by during the course of their investigation so that the guilty do not walk free on technicalities, as they do in most cases in our country", observed a bench comprising Justices BR Gavai, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Sanjay Kumar.
Aghast to see the shocking lapses and the slipshod investigation on the part of the police, the Court drew attention to a 2003 report by Dr. Justice V.S. Malimath's 'Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System,' which emphasized “the manner in which police investigations are conducted is of critical importance to the functioning of the Criminal Justice System. Not only serious miscarriage of justice will result if the collection of evidence is vitiated by error or malpractice, but successful prosecution of the guilty depends on a thorough and careful search for truth and collection of evidence which is both admissible and probative. In undertaking this search, it is the duty of the police to investigate fairly and thoroughly and collect all evidence, whether for or against the suspect”
Echoing the same sentiment, it referred to the Law Commission of India(in 2012) report which observed that the principal causes of low rate of conviction in our country included “inept, unscientific investigation by the police and lack of proper coordination between police and prosecution machinery.”
The Court was hearing an appeal against a judgment of the Madhya Pradesh High Court that affirmed the conviction and sentence of life imprisonment for Omprakash Yadav, and death penalties for Raja Yadav and Rajesh Yadav in relation to kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old boy.
The case revolved around the brutal kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old boy, Ajit Pal, in July 2013. Ajit Pal went missing on March 26, 2013, and a ransom call demanding 50 lakh rupees was received by his family. The police traced the call to Omprakash Yadav, who was subsequently questioned. Rajesh Yadav confessed to the murder and helped recover the victim's body from a well along with the murder weapon
In 2016, the Additional Sessions Judge convicted Omprakash Yadav under Section 364A read with Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), while Raja Yadav and Rajesh Yadav were held guilty under Section 302 IPC read with Section 120B and Section 364A read with Section 120B, respectively. Thereafter they approached the HC which confirmed their conviction including the death penalty on the appellants Raja Yadav and Rajesh Yadav. Aggrieved by this decision, they approached the Supreme Court.
The court noted that the case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence and there was no eyewitness to the kidnapping and murder of Ajit Pal. Relying on the precedent set in Hanumant v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1952) 2 SCC 71 and other cases, the Court emphasized that the prosecution must establish an unbroken chain of events pointing to the guilt of the accused beyond doubt.
Upon analysis of facts, the Court observed significant gaps and discrepancies in the prosecution's evidence, which weakened its case. The timing of Ajit Pal's disappearance and the uncertain ransom amount demanded by the kidnappers raised doubts about the prosecution's version of events. Additionally, the use of sniffer dogs after the body's recovery and the sequence of events concerning the accused's custody were not adequately explained
The court observed “We find that the prosecution utterly failed to pass muster in establishing its case. There are cavernous gaps in the evidence that the prosecution would offer as an ‘unbroken chain unerringly pointing to the guilt of the appellants’. Discrepancies galore in the prosecution’s case tear asunder the fabric of its purported version of how events unfolded. Oftentimes, Courts find that reckless overzealousness and unbridled fervour coupled with scant regard for due procedures and practices on the part of the police, in picking upon those whom they perceive to be the guilty party and then building up a case against them, accomplish the direct opposite of what they seek to achieve, by exposing gaping holes and weak links in the chain of evidence that they ultimately offer, as is the situation now.”
The Court probing further noted that when the investigating officer initially went to search Om Prakash’s house, nothing incriminating was found. However, later, when the officer went with Brijesh Yadav, two phones were seized. Furthermore, it was revealed that the phone from which ransom calls were made was registered in the name of one Bhuraji, yet the police failed to even attempt to contact him. These revelations raised serious doubts about the established connection between the mobile number and Om Prakash Yadav.
In a scathing critique of the lower courts, the Court found it perplexing that despite numerous weak links and loopholes in the prosecution's case, the trial court and the High Court not only accepted the case at face value but also imposed and sustained capital punishment on Rajesh Yadav and Raja Yadav
It observed “It is indeed perplexing that, despite the innumerable weak links and loopholes in the prosecution’s case, the Trial Court as well as the High Court were not only inclined to accept the same at face value but went to the extent of imposing and sustaining capital punishment on Rajesh Yadav and Raja Yadav. No valid and acceptable reasons were put forth as to why this case qualified as the ‘rarest of rare cases’, warranting such drastic punishment. Per contra, we find that the yawning infirmities and gaps in the chain of circumstantial evidence, in this case, warrant acquittal of the appellants by giving them the benefit of doubt.”
In light of the above, the court allowed the appeals and set aside the conviction and sentences of all three appellants on all counts.
Case title: Rajesh v State of MP
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 814
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