The Supreme Court has observed that, in a theft and murder case, it is not safe to draw the inference that the person in possession of the stolen property was the murderer.
In this case Sonu @Sunil vs State of Madhya Pradesh, the appellant was convicted for committing theft and murder. He was sentenced to death by the Trial Court. The High Court later commuted the death penalty and awarded life imprisonment.
The Court noted that the evidence against him essentially consists of the recovery of the mobile phone. It was also noted that there was a gap of about two months between the date of recovery and the date of incident.
The bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph delineated the tests to applied in the case of recovery of an article from an accused person when he stands accused of committing offences other than theft also, (in this instance murder).
The following are the 8-point tests laid down by the Court :
The Court referred to the precedent in the case Sanwant Khan and another v. State of Rajasthan AIR 1956 SC 54. As per this decision, the only presumption which can be drawn under illustration (A) of Section 114of the Evidence Act with respect to a person found in possession of stolen property is that, he is either the receiver of the stolen property or has committed the theft of the property. It does not necessarily indicate that the theft and the murders took place at one and the same time.
"Where, however, the only evidence against an accused person is the recovery of stolen property and although the circumstances may indicate that the theft and the murder must have been committed at the same time, it is not safe to draw the inference that the person in possession of the stolen property was the murdered", the bench quoted from Sanwant Khan
This was followed in decisions Baiju v. State of Madhya Pradesh AIR 1978 SC 522, Shri Bhagwan v. State of Rajasthan AIR 2001 SC 2342 etc.
The bench also noted that there was a discrepancy in the number of the phone stated to have been stolen from the deceased, and the number of the phone stated to have been seized from the accused.
Applying these tests to the facts of the case, the bench observed that it would not be safe to uphold the conviction of the accused and he would be entitled to the benefit of doubt.
Case no.: CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.57 OF 2013 Case name: SONU @ SUNIL vs. STATE OF MADHYA PRADESHCoram: Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph
Click here to Read/Download Judgment