Supreme Court Upholds Acquittal Of A Death Row Convict By High Court

Udit Singh

9 May 2023 7:57 AM GMT

  • Supreme Court Upholds Acquittal Of A Death Row Convict By High Court

    The Supreme Court recently upheld the decision of Madhya Pradesh High Court which acquitted an accused who was awarded death sentence by the Trial Court for the alleged murder of his wife on the ground that prosecution has failed to prove the circumstances (i.e. motive, disclosure, recovery, and extra judicial confession) beyond reasonable doubt.The three judge bench comprising Justice...

    The Supreme Court recently upheld the decision of Madhya Pradesh High Court which acquitted an accused who was awarded death sentence by the Trial Court for the alleged murder of his wife on the ground that prosecution has failed to prove the circumstances (i.e. motive, disclosure, recovery, and extra judicial confession) beyond reasonable doubt.

    The three judge bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Justice Manoj Misra and Justice Aravind Kumar raised doubts at the prosecution case and observed that there were several doubts regarding the disclosure statement, recovery and extra-judicial confession.

    “In light thereof, considering that the place of occurrence was an open place and the other circumstances (i.e. motive, disclosure, recovery and extra judicial confession) were not proved beyond reasonable doubt, shifting the burden on the accused to explain the circumstances in which the deceased sustained injuries, or to demonstrate that he parted company of the deceased, would not be justified in the facts of the case", the judgment authored by Justice Manoj Misra observed.


    The accused-respondent was unhappy that his wife (the deceased) had kept her jewellery with her sister (PW8). On February 01, 2010, at around 2 p.m., the accused came to the house of PW2, while PW8 was there, fought with PW8 and told her that he would his wife and set the house on fire.

    When PW2 returned from his shop at around 7 p.m., on getting the above information, he telephoned PW4, daughter of the deceased, who informed PW2 that her father had taken her mother on a bicycle towards the field while making utterances that he would kill her.

    On receipt of information from PW4, PW2 came to the village where the deceased resided and went to search her out with the help of a person and PW2’s brother-in-law (PW3). During the course of search, they found the deceased lying seriously injured between the railway tracks. They rushed her to Hospital but, on way, she succumbed to her injuries.

    An FIR was lodged by PW2 stating the above-mentioned facts on February 01, 2010 at 9:30 p.m.

    The Trial Court while placing reliance upon the testimony of PW4, convicted the accused and awarded him death sentence under Section 302 of IPC and 7 years of rigorous imprisonment under Section 201 of IPC.

    However, the Madhya Pradesh High Court at Jabalpur vide impugned judgment and order dated December 11, 2015 set aside the order of conviction and sentence including death penalty awarded to the respondent by the Trial Court and acquitted the accused-respondent.

    Hence, the State of Madhya Pradesh filed the Special Leave Petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court.


    The Counsel appearing for the State submitted before the Court that the testimony of PW4 (daughter of the deceased) is straightforward and coupled with other evidences establish beyond reasonable doubt the following:

    1. that there used to be fights/quarrels between the deceased and the accused;
    2. that on the fateful day, there was a quarrel between the two; and
    3. that soon after the quarrel the deceased was taken on a bicycle by the appellant to the field and shortly thereafter near the hut/field of the accused, on a railway track, the deceased was found in a seriously injured state suggesting that she was badly assaulted.

    It was further submitted that it is a case where the deceased had died at around 8 p.m. on February 01, 2010, the FIR was promptly lodged at 9:30 p.m. narrating the circumstances in which the incident occurred and those circumstances have been confirmed by the testimony of prosecution witnesses therefore, even if subsequent story of confession/recovery is discarded, the proven circumstances by itself form a chain so complete as to sustain conviction of the accused as justifiably recorded by the trial court.

    On the other hand, the Counsel appearing for the accused-respondent contended that the testimony of PW4, does not inspire confidence as it is found unreliable on several aspects therefore, being the sole witness of the circumstance that the deceased was taken from home by the accused, could not on its own form the basis of conviction.

    It was further argued that High Court is a final court of fact and the view of the High Court is not in ignorance of any evidence or by misreading any piece of evidence therefore, no interference with it is called for, particularly when the case rests on circumstantial evidence.

    Court’s Observation

    The Supreme Court noted that the prosecution relied upon the following circumstances:

    1. Motive
    2. Disclosure Statement and Recovery
    3. Extra Judicial Confession
    4. Accused taking the deceased with him and soon thereafter the deceased was found in an injured state.

    The Court examined each of the above-mentioned circumstances as follows:

    a) Motive

    The Court noted:

    “According to the prosecution, the appellant and the deceased used to quarrel because the deceased had kept her jewellery with her sister. However, the above reason for the quarrel was not found proved because the prosecution evidence led revealed that the jewellery had already been returned back much before the date of the incident. Therefore, to prove motive, during trial, prosecution developed another story, which is, that the appellant desired his wife to claim a share in her ancestral property which resulted in quarrels.”

    The Court opined that not much evidence was laid to substantiate the alleged motive and therefore the prosecution failed to prove the motive set out by it.

    b) Disclosure Statement and Recovery

    The prosecution placed heavy reliance on recovery of blood-stained clothes and stones from the hut of the accused on the basis of alleged disclosure made by him.

    The Court noted that there were material contradictions in the documents regarding the time of arrest and recovery memos. 

    The Court observed:

    “How could it be possible that the police prepared two memorandums at the same time at different places? The answer to it lies in the testimony of PW6, a witness to both, who stated that he was made to sign the papers at the police station. Meaning thereby that all papers were prepared at one go rendering the entire exercise of disclosure and consequential discovery/recovery doubtful.”

    The Court further observed :

    "Not only that, there appears no cogent reason for the accused to carry stones from the spot and hide them in his hut while leaving several blood-stained stones near the railway line. In such circumstances, it appears to us that those stones were picked from the spot near the railway track to show recovery from the hut"

    c) Extra Judicial Confession to PW4

    The Court pointed that the alleged extra judicial confession made by the accused to PW4 was neither disclosed in the FIR nor in the previous statement of PW4 made during investigation which was confronted during her deposition in court.

    The Court further noted that the testimony of PW4 with regard to the accused returning home, making extra judicial confession, changing clothes, washing blood-stained clothes and spreading them to dry has been found unreliable and shaky by the High Court for cogent reasons extracted above, which do not appear perverse as to warrant an interference.

    d) Accused taking the deceased from home on a bicycle

    The Court observed that in respect of this circumstance, the only evidence is of PW4 i.e. the daughter of the accused and the deceased. However, the evidence of the PW4 was not supported by the other two witnesses PW1 and PW12.

    The Court noted:

    “Further, even if we accept PW4’s testimony that the accused, on that fateful day, took the deceased on a bicycle to the fields that by itself is not conclusive to indicate that he took her to kill her; because, admittedly, the accused held agricultural holding and it is quite possible that he may have taken his wife to assist him in the agricultural operations.”

    Thus, for the above-mentioned reasons, the Court upheld the impugned judgment and order of acquittal of the accused-respondent passed by the High Court on the ground the benefit of doubt was rightly extended to the accused by the High Court.

    Case Title: State of Madhya Pradesh v. Phoolchand Rathore

    Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 408

    Click Here to Read/Download Judgment

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