20 Sep 2023 10:18 AM GMT
The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the paramount importance of eyewitness accounts in criminal trials. The Court relied on Darbara Singh v. State of Punjab (2012) 10 SCC 476 and Anvaruddin v. Shakoor 1990 (3) SCC 266 to emphasize the importance of ocular evidence over the opinion of medical experts. The judgment underlined that eyewitness testimony, even if not detailed in every aspect,...
The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the paramount importance of eyewitness accounts in criminal trials. The Court relied on Darbara Singh v. State of Punjab (2012) 10 SCC 476 and Anvaruddin v. Shakoor 1990 (3) SCC 266 to emphasize the importance of ocular evidence over the opinion of medical experts. The judgment underlined that eyewitness testimony, even if not detailed in every aspect, holds substantial weight in establishing the sequence of events.
It observed, “In the judgment of this Court reported in Darbara Singh vs State of Punjab, (2012) 10 SCC 476, this Court has given greater importance to ocular evidence over the opinion of the medical expert. This principle applies to the case before us. Even if in the opinion of the autopsy surgeon there was a mismatch of the knife with the injuries caused, the doctor’s evidence cannot eclipse ocular evidence. The evidence on postoccurrence events is consistent.”
The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Aniruddha Bose and Justice Bela M Trivedi was hearing an appeal against a Gujarat High Court judgment that had overturned the acquittal by the trial court. The appellant was convicted under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for the murder of one Jayantibhai on July 10, 1995.
The case revolved around the brutal killing of Jayantibhai, who succumbed to knife injuries sustained during the incident. The FIR was lodged by PW1(brother of the deceased) who alleged that the murder was committed by the appellant along with his father and brother. The prosecution's case was built on the eyewitness account of prosecution witness PW2(Parvatiben) and the dying declaration of PW4 and PW5(brother of the deceased).
The trial court had initially acquitted all three accused persons primarily based on medical evidence. The HC in appeal reversed the acquittal and held the appellant liable. Against this, the appellants approached the Supreme Court.
Advocate Mr. D.N. Ray appearing on behalf of the appellant referred to the trial court’s observation which had noted discrepancies in the manner in which the knife blows were allegedly inflicted and in the identification of the weapon used in the assault.
He strongly contended that the medical evidence presented during the trial clearly indicated that the knife seized as evidence, referred to as "muddamal 9," could not have caused the fatal injury sustained by the deceased.
The Court pointed out that the trial court had placed undue emphasis on relatively minor contradictions in witness statements while ignoring the overall testimony of prosecution witnesses. It held that the contradiction in the number of injuries was not fatal to the prosecution's case. Moreover, the prosecution's case should not be entirely negated merely because the fatal injuries, as per the opinion of the autopsy surgeon, could not have been caused by the recovered knife.
It opined “Just because there were more injuries than the ones narrated by the eyewitness cannot negate the prosecution's version. In our opinion the discrepancies pointed out by the appellant are minor ones. An eyewitness to a gruesome killing cannot in deposition narrate a blow-by-blow account of the knife strikes inflicted on the deceased like in a screenplay"
The Court referred to the judgment in State of H. P. v. Lekh Raj (2000) (1) SCC 247 which emphasized that it was common for different witnesses to provide slightly varying accounts of details. The Court noted that unless these contradictions were of substantial significance, they should not be used to reject the entire body of evidence.
On the aspect of discrepancies, the Court had summed up the principle thus “There are bound to be some discrepancies between the narrations of different witnesses when they speak on details, and unless the contradictions are of a material dimension, the same should not be used to jettison the evidence in its entirety. Incidentally, corroboration of evidence with mathematical niceties cannot be expected in criminal cases. Minor embellishment, there may be, but variations by reason therefore should not render the evidence of eyewitnesses unbelievable. Trivial discrepancies ought not to obliterate an otherwise acceptable evidence….
The court shall have to bear in mind that different witnesses react differently under different situations: whereas some become speechless, some start wailing while some others run away from the scene and yet there are some who may come forward with courage, conviction, and belief that the wrong should be remedied. As a matter of fact, it depends upon individuals and individuals. There cannot be any set pattern or uniform rule of human reaction and to discard a piece of evidence on the ground of his reaction not falling within a set pattern is unproductive and a pedantic exercise.”
The bench emphasized that the evidence provided by eyewitnesses and post-occurrence witnesses was consistent and sufficiently corroborated the prosecution's account of events.
In light of the above, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and dismissed the appeal. The Court highlighted the need to avoid undue reliance on fanciful doubts when considering the rule of the benefit of the doubt, citing Gurbachan Singh v. Satpal Singh (1990).
The Court ordered “We, accordingly, dismiss this appeal. We are apprised that the appellant is on bail. His bail bond shall stand canceled and the appellant is directed to surrender before the trial Court within a period of four weeks.”
Case title: Rameshji Amarsingh Thakor v. State of Gujarat
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 804
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