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'Entitled To Benefit Of Doubt' : Supreme Court Acquits Accused In A 1985 Murder Case

Ashok KM
25 Jan 2023 12:31 PM GMT
Entitled To Benefit Of Doubt : Supreme Court Acquits Accused In A 1985 Murder Case
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In a judgment delivered yesterday (24 January 2023), the Supreme Court acquitted the accused in a 1985 Murder Case by giving them benefi of doubt.

One Narayan was murdered on 5th September, 1985. Munna Lal, Sheo Lal, Babu Ram, and Kalika were accused of murder and they were convicted by the Trial Court in January 1986. The appeal filed by the accused was dismissed by the Allahabad High Court in the year 2014.

In appeal, the court noted the following (1) the statement of the main prosecution witness under section 161, Cr. P.C. was recorded nearly 24 days after the incident. (2) Though investigating officer is said to have reached the place of occurrence at 1.30 p.m. on 5th September, 1985 and recovered a bullet in the blood oozing out from the injury at the hip of the dead body, no effort worthy of consideration appears to have been made to seize the weapons by which the murderous attack was launched. (3) non-obtaining of ballistic report.

Reappreciating the evidence on record, the Apex Court bench observed that there is a fair degree of uncertainty in the prosecution story in this case. The courts below appear to have somewhat been influenced by the oral testimony of prosecution witnesses, without taking into consideration the effect of the other attending circumstances, the bench of Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Dipankar Datta said.

The judgment also summarizes the following settled principles:

(a) Section 134 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872, enshrines the well-recognized maxim that evidence has to be weighed and not counted. In other words, it is the quality of 14 evidence that matters and not the quantity. As a sequitur, even in a case of murder, it is not necessary to insist upon a plurality of witnesses and the oral evidence of a single witness, if found to be reliable and trustworthy, could lead to a conviction. (b) Generally speaking, oral testimony may be classified into three categories, viz.: (i) Wholly reliable; (ii) Wholly unreliable; (iii) Neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable. The first two category of cases may not pose serious difficulty for the court in arriving at its conclusion(s). However, in the third category of cases, the court has to be circumspect and look for corroboration of any material particulars by reliable testimony, direct or circumstantial, as a requirement of the rule of prudence. (c) A defective investigation is not always fatal to the prosecution where ocular testimony is found credible and cogent. While in such a case the court has to be circumspect in evaluating the evidence, a faulty investigation cannot in all cases be a determinative factor to throw out a credible prosecution version. (d) Non-examination of the Investigating Officer must result in prejudice to the accused; if no prejudice is caused, mere non-examination would not render the prosecution case fatal. (e) Discrepancies do creep in, when a witness deposes in a natural manner after lapse of some time, and if such discrepancies are comparatively of a minor nature and do not go to the root of the prosecution story, then the same may not be given undue importance.

On the issue of defective investigation, the bench observed:

"Although, mere defects in the investigative process by itself cannot constitute ground for acquittal, it is the legal obligation of the Court to examine carefully in each case the prosecution evidence de hors the lapses committed by the Investigating Officer to find out whether the evidence brought on record is at all reliable and whether such lapses affect the object of finding out the truth."

The bench held that the appellants are entitled to benefit of doubt and thus set aside their concurrent conviction.

Case details

Munna Lal vs State of Uttar Pradesh | 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 60 | CrA 490 OF 2017 | 24 January 2023 | Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Dipankar Dutta

For Appellant(s) Mr. Mukesh K. Giri, AOR

For Respondent(s) Mr. Ankur Prakash, AOR Mr. Sanjay Kumar Tyagi, AOR Mr. Vikas Bansal, Adv. Mr. Prabhat Kumar Rai, Adv. Mr. Sanjay Kumar, Adv. Mr. Pawan, Adv. Mr. Memansak Bhardwaj, Adv

Headnotes

Indian Penal Code, 1860 ; Section 300,302 - Concurrent conviction of murder accused set aside - There is a fair degree of uncertainty in the prosecution story and the courts below appear to have somewhat been influenced by the oral testimony of PW-2 and PW-3, without taking into consideration the effect of the other attending circumstances, thereby warranting interference.

Indian Evidence Act, 1872 ; Section 134 - Evidence has to be weighed and not counted. In other words, it is the quality of evidence that matters and not the quantity - Even in a case of murder, it is not necessary to insist upon a plurality of witnesses and the oral evidence of a single witness, if found to be reliable and trustworthy, could lead to a conviction - Discrepancies do creep in, when a witness deposes in a natural manner after lapse of some time, and if such discrepancies are comparatively of a minor nature and do not go to the root of the prosecution story, then the same may not be given undue importance - Generally speaking, oral testimony may be classified into three categories, viz.: (i) Wholly reliable; (ii) Wholly unreliable; (iii) Neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable. The first two category of cases may not pose serious difficulty for the court in arriving at its conclusion(s). However, in the third category of cases, the court has to be circumspect and look for corroboration of any material particulars by reliable testimony, direct or circumstantial, as a requirement of the rule of prudence. (Para 28)

Criminal Trial - Criminal Investigation - A defective investigation is not always fatal to the prosecution where ocular testimony is found credible and cogent. While in such a case the court has to be circumspect in evaluating the evidence, a faulty investigation cannot in all cases be a determinative factor to throw out a credible prosecution version -Non-examination of the Investigating Officer must result in prejudice to the accused; if no prejudice is caused, mere non-examination would not render the prosecution case fatal - Though mere defects in the investigative process by itself cannot constitute ground for acquittal, it is the legal obligation of the Court to examine carefully in each case the prosecution evidence de hors the lapses committed by the Investigating Officer to find out whether the evidence brought on record is at all reliable and whether such lapses affect the object of finding out the truth. (Para 28, 42)

Click Here To Read/Download Judgment

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