Mere Absconding By Accused & Remaining Untraceable For Long Can't Establish Guilt : Supreme Court

Sheryl Sebastian

15 Dec 2023 11:53 AM GMT

  • Mere Absconding By Accused & Remaining Untraceable For Long Cant Establish Guilt : Supreme Court

    The Supreme Court on Tuesday (12.12.2023) acquitted a man convicted by the High Court of Madras under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC, holding that the prosecution was unable to establish the accusation against him beyond reasonable doubt. The Court said he was entitled to be acquitted as it is what the justice of the case demands.The prosecution contended...

    The Supreme Court on Tuesday (12.12.2023) acquitted a man convicted by the High Court of Madras under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC, holding that the prosecution was unable to establish the accusation against him beyond reasonable doubt. The Court said he was entitled to be acquitted as it is what the justice of the case demands.

    The prosecution contended that the Appellant had been absconding for over 3 years and was apprehended in Kerala after vigorous search which was indicative of his guilt. However, the Court said held that mere abscondence cannot establish the guilt of a person.  A bench of Justice BR Gavai, Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Aravind Kumar observed as thus: 

    “...abscondence by a person against whom an FIR has been lodged and who is under expectation of being apprehended is not very unnatural. Mere absconding by the appellant after alleged commission of crime and remaining untraceable for such a long time itself cannot establish his guilt or his guilty conscience. Abscondence, in certain cases, could constitute a relevant piece of evidence, but its evidentiary value depends upon the surrounding circumstances. This sole circumstance, therefore, does not enure to the benefit of the prosecution”.

    According to the facts of the case, there was a quarrel between the Appellant and the victim with regard to demand of wages. The allegation was that the Appellant picked up a rubber stick from behind a tea stall and attacked the victim. The victim succumbed to his injuries and later died. The High Court concluded that there was no premeditation or intention on the part of the Appellant to commit the murder of the victim and that it happened in the spur of the moment.

    The Sessions judge had convicted the Appellant for committing murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The High Court in turn found him guilty of the offence under section 304-Part II of the IPC and sentenced him to five years' rigorous imprisonment. The High Court was of the view that the Appellant caused the head injury resulting in the death of the victim but it also concluded that the Appellant did not have the intention to cause death.

    The Apex Court however, after examining the evidence on record, arrived at the conclusion that all circumstances taken together tilt more towards the inference that the victim was under the influence of alcohol, and fell from a tree, suffered a head injury in the process of falling which ultimately led to his death.

    Initially, these injuries were not suspected to be serious injuries warranting admission of the victim to a government hospital or even to report the incident to the police. However, later when the situation worsened, the Appellant was possibly framed, the Apex Court stated. The Apex Court found the prosecution version to not be wholly acceptable.

    The Court said that conviction can be based on part evidence, if it is credible, however, in this case, the prosecution's version was wholly unreliable.

    "There seems to be no legal bar in convicting an accused resting on part of the evidence, which is primarily found to be credible and acceptable; however, where the evidence is so inseparable that any attempt to separate them would destroy the substratum on which the prosecution version is founded, then this Court would be within its legal limits to discard the evidence in its entirety” the Court said. 

    The material witnesses in the case had not been examined by the prosecution. Two persons, Ponnaian and Velukutti were present at the tea stall when the alleged incident took place according to the version of PW 2 and PW3. The prosecution failed to explain why Ponnaian and Velikutti were not called upon to depose despite being present at the place of occurrence and despite their statements having been recorded in the course of investigation.

    If they were unavailable to depose, the prosecution ought to have adduced relevant evidence in that regard. The prosecution having not examined Ponnaian and Velikutti, illustration (g) of section 114 of the Evidence Act is well and truly attracted in the present case, the Apex Court concluded.

    “In cases of the present nature, where material witnesses are withheld by the prosecution and it is the positive case set up by the defence that he has been falsely implicated for murder though death of the victim could be for reasons attributable to an accidental fall from a tree and such a case in defence finds some amount of corroboration from the other evidence on record, coupled with the fact that the appellate court has imposed a lesser sentence upon reversal of the finding of murder returned by the trial court, this Court as the court of last resort has a duty to separate the grain from the chaff and after sieving the untruth or unacceptable portion of the evidence, to also examine whether the residue is sufficient to prove the guilt of the accused.” the Court said.

    While examining the evidence the Court noted that there was a delay in filing the FIR. The FIR was lodged on 15th March 1996 at about 09.00 a.m. although the incident was of 12th March 1996. PW-2 claimed that he did not report out of fear as the Appellant had threatened PWs 2 and 3. However, the Court noted that there was no satisfactory explanation for the belated registration of the FIR.

    “It is trite that merely because there is some delay in lodging an FIR, the same by itself and without anything more ought not to weigh in the mind of the courts in all cases as fatal for the prosecution. A realistic and pragmatic approach has to be adopted, keeping in mind the peculiarities of each particular case, to assess whether the unexplained delay in lodging the FIR is an afterthought to give a coloured version of the incident, which is sufficient to corrode the credibility of the prosecution version. In cases where delay occurs, it has to be tested on the anvil of other attending circumstances. If on an overall consideration of all relevant circumstances it appears to the court that the delay in lodging the FIR has been explained, mere delay cannot be sufficient to disbelieve the prosecution case; however, if the delay is not satisfactorily explained and it appears to the court that cause for the delay had been necessitated to frame anyone as an accused, there is no reason as to why the delay should not be considered as fatal forming part of several factors to vitiate the conviction” the Court said.

    Examining the evidence regarding the injury inflicted on the victim, the Court noted that relevant medical documents had not been produced to corroborate that the head injury suffered by the victim was caused by the blow of the rubber stick and could not have been suffered as a result of a fall from the tree.

    “Viewed in the light of the delay in lodging of the FIR and on threadbare consideration of the other evidence on record, the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate death of Palas do not clearly and unequivocally point to the involvement of the appellant and his false implication cannot be wholly ruled out” the Court concluded while setting aside the conviction of the Appellant.


    Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 1052

    Click here to read/download judgment

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