10 May 2023 1:00 PM GMT
The Supreme Court recently set aside the conviction of a convict and upheld the acquittal of the co-accused in a murder case on the ground that the prosecution has failed to prove the chain of incriminating circumstances as to conclusively prove the guilt of the accused persons.The three judge bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Justice Manoj Misra and Justice Aravind...
The Supreme Court recently set aside the conviction of a convict and upheld the acquittal of the co-accused in a murder case on the ground that the prosecution has failed to prove the chain of incriminating circumstances as to conclusively prove the guilt of the accused persons.
The three judge bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Justice Manoj Misra and Justice Aravind Kumar observed:
“we have no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has failed to prove a chain of incriminating circumstances as to conclusively point out that in all human probability it was the two accused or any one of them, and no one else, who had committed the murder.............In a nutshell, it is a case where the prosecution failed to elevate its case from the realm of "may be true" to the plane of "must be true" as is indispensably required for conviction on a criminal charge.”
The two accused persons (appellant and respondent respectively) were charged of murder of a person whose dead body was found in the apartment of which the accused-appellant was tenant and occupant. The offence took place in 2000.
Both the accused persons were convicted under Section 302 read with Section 34 of IPC and sentenced to imprisonment for life by the Trial Court vide judgement and order of sentence dated February 27, 2008 and February 29, 2008 respectively.
However, in the appeal before the Delhi High Court, the conviction of convict-appellant was upheld whereas the conviction of co-accused-respondent was set aside.
Aggrieved by acquittal of co-accused-respondent, State of Delhi preferred Criminal Appeal whereas, aggrieved by dismissal of his appeal, the appellant filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.
The Counsel appearing for the convict-appellant argued that there is no documentary evidence that the appellant was tenant of the apartment. It was further contended that no motive for the murder was proved and the presence of the appellant in the said apartment was not proved at the relevant time.
The appellant’s Counsel submitted that the FSL report is silent as to whether the fingerprints of the appellant was found on the articles found in the apartment.
It was further argued that mere presence of a dead body in the apartment of the accused, which was accessible to others and was not under lock and key or exclusive control of the accused, by itself is not sufficient to infer that the accused has committed the crime, particularly, when there is no proven motive for the crime and there is no evidence of the deceased being last seen alive in the company of the accused.
On the Other hand the Counsel appearing for the State submitted that it was proved beyond doubt that the apartment where the body was found was in the tenancy of appellant and there was no explanation from appellant as to how dead body of the deceased was present in his apartment.
It was further submitted that the chain of incriminating circumstances is complete, conclusively pointing towards the guilt of the accused.
In the another appeal against the acquittal of the accused, the Counsel appearing for the State argued that as it was proved that the suicide letter was recovered from a pocket of the trouser which the deceased was wearing at the time of his death and since the co-accused-respondent had not disputed the specimen signature and writing obtained from him and utilised for comparison, the handwriting expert report could not have been discarded.
It was further submitted that there was recovery of knife/dagger at the instance of co-accused-respondent, which, according to the doctor, could have caused injuries as were found on the body of the deceased, it stood proved beyond reasonable doubt that co-accused-respondent had actively participated in the crime rendering himself liable to be convicted and sentenced under section 302 IPC with the aid of section 34 IPC.
The Counsel appearing for the respondent submitted that there is no admissible evidence to prove that the writing in the suicide letter was of the co-accused-respondent as a report of the expert is just an opinion and on its own it cannot form basis of a conclusion, particularly, when there is no internal or external evidence to support writing of the suicide letter.
It was further argued that the alleged recovery of knife/dagger is false and is liable to be discarded.
Recent Acquittals From Supreme Court Reflect Deep Malaise In Our Criminal Trial System
The Supreme Court examined the following issues:
The Court observed that the incriminating circumstance that stood proved beyond reasonable doubt as against appellant was that the deceased had died a homicidal death in the apartment which stood in his tenancy.
However, the Court noted that there is no admissible evidence connecting the co-aacused-respondent with either appellant or the deceased.
The Court opined:
“There is also no admissible evidence to show that co-accused-respondent resided in that apartment either as a co-tenant or sub-tenant thereof. The allegation that the suicide letter was written by co-accused has already been held not proved beyond reasonable doubt, therefore, in our view, there is no worthwhile evidence against co-accused. Hence, his acquittal by the High Court calls for no interference.”
The Court pointed that as far as the appellant is concerned, barring the tenancy of that apartment being with him, rest of the circumstances relied by the prosecution have not been found proved beyond reasonable doubt.
The Court further stated that mere tenancy of that apartment being with appellant, by itself, would not constitute a chain so far complete as to logically infer that in all human probability deceased was killed by him and no one else for the following reasons:
Thus, for the above-mentioned reasons the Supreme Court set aside the conviction of the appellant and upheld the acquittal of the co-accused-respondent.
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Case Title: Santosh @ Bhure v. State (G.N.C.T.) of Delhi; State v. Neeraj
Coram: Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Justice Manoj Misra and Justice Aravind Kumar
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 418
Click Here to Read/Download Judgment