1 March 2023 1:40 PM GMT
The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, reversed a conviction recorded by the Trial Court, affirmed by the Tripura High Court on the ground that major links of the chain of circumstances had not been proved by the prosecution evidence in a case based on circumstantial evidence. A Bench comprising Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Vikram Nath was of the opinion that in the facts and circumstances of...
The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, reversed a conviction recorded by the Trial Court, affirmed by the Tripura High Court on the ground that major links of the chain of circumstances had not been proved by the prosecution evidence in a case based on circumstantial evidence.
A Bench comprising Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Vikram Nath was of the opinion that in the facts and circumstances of the present case, where a case based on circumstances evidence was not made out, it would be unjust to uphold the conviction. Considering the same, the Bench noted that the accused is entitled to benefit of doubt. It acquitted the accused of all charges and directed to release him. It is pertinent to note that though, as on Tuesday, the accused was in judicial custody, he has been granted parole by the State.
The police, having been informed that blood was seen on a road, reached the location to find a vojali (big knife), a taga (thread) and some broken pieces of glass which appeared to be of the rear-view mirror of a motorcycle. The police noticed visible marks of dragging some heavy object in the jungle on the side of the concerned road. While they were carrying out their investigation, one Arjun Das informed the police station that his nephew Kaushik Sarkar had been missing since the previous evening. The police recorded the statement of Kaushik’s mother who informed them that on the previous evening he had gone out with two of his friends (including the appellant Indrajit Das). According to the prosecution, the two friends had confessed before the Investigating Officer that they had accompanied the deceased on his bike the evening he went missing. As per the Investigating Officer, the two friends assaulted Kaushik with vojalis and dragged his dead body and the motorcycle to the nearby river and threw them into the river. One of the accused was tried as a juvenile, while Indrajit faced a regular trial. At the trial Indrajit pleaded not guilty and claimed to be tried. The Trial Court convicted him for offences punishable under Section 302, 34 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced him to life imprisonment and allied sentences to run concurrently. The High Court dismissed the appeal noting that the prosecution has been successful in proving charges beyond reasonable doubt.
In the present case, the dead body has not been recovered. Only a limb was recovered but no DNA testing was carried out to establish that the limb was that of the deceased Kaushik Sarkar. As such the entire case of the prosecution proceeds on presumption that Kaushik Sarkar has died.
Analysis by the Supreme Court
At the threshold, the Court noted that the case is of circumstantial evidence and ought to fulfil the two-fold requirements -
“The basic links in the chain of circumstances starts with motive, then move on to last seen theory, recovery, medical evidence, expert opinions if any and any other additional link which may be part of the chain of circumstances.”
The Court noted that the prosecution has not established motive as to why the accused had committed the crime. It observed that the Trial Court and the High Court had also not recorded a finding on motive. The Court was of the opinion that motive carries a much greater importance in a case based on circumstantial evidence than one of direct evidence. In this regard, the Court referred to the judgments in Kuna Alias Sanjaya Behera v. State of Odisha (2018) 1 SCC 296 and Ranganayaki v. State of Inspector of Police (2004) 12 SCC 521.
Recovery of body of the deceased
The dead body had not been recovered and the present case was based on the presumption that Kaushik Sarkar had died. No DNA test was carried out for the limb that was recovered. Referring to the principle of corpus delicti the Court stated that there are judgments on both sides - conviction can be recorded in absence of recovery of corpus and no conviction can be recorded in absence of corpus. The reason behind the latter view is that if the corpus is alive then one has to undergo sentence without having committed any offence. The Court recorded that the non-recovery of the corpse would have relevance in considering the links of chain of circumstances.
Last Seen Theory
The Court noted that Kaushik’s mother had stated that upon enquiry he had told her that he was going out with the accused. Following Kaushik to the gate, she had also seen the two friends. However in her cross-examination, she had denied making any such statement, though she conceded that she had told the Investigating Officer that she had seen the accused at her gate.
As per the extrajudicial confession of the accused before the Investigating Officer, Kaushik Sarkar met them while they were waiting near a bazar. The Court noted that if the extrajudicial confession was to be accepted then the last seen theory of the mother would fall apart. The Court opined that the statement of the mother was an attempt to develop the last seen theory. Moreover, the Court observed that -
“The extra-judicial confession is a weak piece of evidence and especially when it has been retracted during trial. It requires strong evidence to corroborate it and also it must be established that it was completely voluntary and truthful.”
The recoveries were made from an open place and could not have been in the exclusive and special knowledge of the accused persons.
Indrajit Das v. State of Tripura|2023 LiveLaw (SC) 152 |Criminal Appeal No. 609 of 2015|28th February, 2023|Justice B.R. Gavai v. Justice Vikram Nath
For Appellant(s) Ms. Madhumita Bhattacharjee, AOR Ms. Urmila Kar Purkayastha, Adv. Ms. Srija Choudhury, Adv. Ms. Piyali Paul, Adv. Ms. Arushi Mishra, Adv.
For Respondent(s) Mr. Shuvodeep Roy, AOR
Indian Evidence Act 1872- Circumstantial Evidence- Every link in the chain of circumstances necessary to establish the guilt of the accused must be established beyond reasonable doubt- All the circumstances must be consistently pointing towards the guilt of the accused- Para 10.
Indian Evidence Act 1872- In a case of circumstantial evidence, motive has an important role to play.It is an important link in the chain of circumstances-The basic links in the chain of circumstances starts with motive, then move on to last seen theory, recovery, medical evidence, expert opinions if any and any other additional link which may be part of the chain of circumstances - Para 12, 15
Indian Evidence Act 1872- Murder trial -principle of corpus delicti- non-recovery of the corpse would have relevance in considering the links of chain of circumstances -Para 16.
Indian Evidence Act 1872 -Extra-judicial confession-The extra-judicial confession is a weak piece of evidence and especially when it has been retracted during trial. It requires strong evidence to corroborate it and also it must be established that it was completely voluntary and truthful - Para 21
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