Reasonable doubt is a well-defined connotation-SC

In the case of Rajesh Dhiman v. State of Himachal Pradesh (CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1032 of 2013), the SC had held that had clarified  the   expression of  “reasonable   doubt”   is   a   well-­defined connotation.  It refers to the degree of certainty required of a court before it can make a legally valid determination of the guilt of an accused. Reasonable doubt does not mean that proof be so clear that no possibility of error exists.

The facts of this case initiating both the appeals are common. On 09.01.2002, at about 1.00 P.M., a police team led by ASI Purushottam Dutt (PW8) and also comprising Constable Sunder Singh (PW1), Constable Bhup Singh (PW2) and Constable Bhopal Singh   (PW7)   were   checking traffic at   Shamshar when a motorcycle without a number plate was spotted. Gulshan Rana (appellant in Criminal Appeal No. 1126 of 2019) was driving the vehicle and Rajesh Dhiman (appellant in Criminal Appeal No. 1032 of 2013) was seated on the pillion with a backpack slung over his shoulders. They were signaled to stop and documents of the motorcycle were demanded. Meanwhile, another vehicle was halted and its occupants Karam Chand (PW3) and Shiv Ram were included in the search. An attempt was made to associate local residents to witness the subsequent proceedings,   but none agreed. Subsequently, the appellants were given the option to be searched in the presence of a Magistrate or Gazetted Officer but they consented to be searched by the police on the spot itself. The police then discovered polythene bags containing charas from the backpack carried by Rajesh Dhiman. The polythene bags were weighed and found to be 3kg 100gms. After separating some samples, the charas was duly sealed and handed over to Karam Chand (PW3) who later deposited it at the police station. After completion of the personal search of the appellants,  they were formally arrested. The prosecution examined nine witnesses to support their case of chance recovery, which included eight police officials and one independent witness, Karam Chand (PW3). Whereas the police witnesses strongly corroborated each other’s testimony, PW3 was declared hostile for he claimed not to have witnessed the seizure of the narcotics. The spot map, arrest memo, search memos, consent memo, seizure memo, rukka seals, chemical analysis report and samples of  charas  were also adduced as evidence. In response, both appellants asserted their innocence. The learned   Special   Judge   through judgment   dated 28.12.2002 acquitted the appellants holding that charges under the NDPS Act had not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial Court viewed that the witnesses on the spot had either not been examined or turned hostile.

The question of law, in this case, initiate with the Criminal Appeals which had been preferred against a common judgment of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh dated 28.08.2012, by which the appellants’ acquittal under Section 20 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (“NDPS Act”) was reversed and a sentence of ten years rigorous imprisonment and fine of Rs 1,00,000 each was awarded.

The judges, in this case, had held “ We, therefore, see no reason to draw any adverse inference against PW8 himself investigating his complaint. The appellants’ claim of bias stems from the purported delays, non­compliance of statutory   mandates   and   non­examination   of   independent witness. In effect, the appellants are seeking to circuitously use the very same arguments which have individually been held by the High Court to be factually incorrect or legally irrelevant. Although in some cases, certain actions (or lack thereof) by the Investigating Officer might indicate bias; but mere deficiencies in investigation or chinks in the prosecution case can’t be the sole basis for concluding bias. The appellants have at no stage claimed that there existed any enmity or other motive for the police to falsely implicate them and let the real culprits walk free. Further, such a huge quantity of  charas could not have been planted against the appellants by the police on its own.

“At the outset, we may clarify that the observations relied upon by the appellants, are not findings, conclusion or resolution by this Court in Mukesh Singh (supra). Instead, a perusal of the judgment shows that it was a contention put forth by one of the parties ­ which the Bench eventually disagreed with. Further, not only the alternative version projected by the appellants is vague and improbable, but it escapes our comprehension how non investigation of a defence theory disclosed only at an advanced stage of trial, could indicate bias on part of the police.”

 “The contention of the appellants that they are entitled to be acquitted on the ground of there being two varying versions of the same incident does not carry any weight. We may firstly clarify that the expression   “reasonable doubt”   is a   well­defined connotation. It refers to the degree of certainty required of a court before it can make a legally valid determination of the guilt of an accused. These  words  are  inbuilt  measures  to  ensure  that innocence is to be presumed unless the court finds no reasonable doubt of the guilt of the person charged. Reasonable doubt does not mean that proof be so clear that no possibility of error exists. In other words, the evidence must only be so conclusive that all reasonable doubts are removed from the mind of an ordinary person.”

Reliance can also not be placed on Karam Chand’s (PW3) testimony by the appellants. First, his statement that he was told by the police that there was a third person on the spot is hearsay and inadmissible in view of Section 60 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Second, his credibility had effectively been impeached by the prosecutor during the trial. PW3 denies in his examination­in chief being on the spot or a party to any proceeding, but later he makes a poor attempt to contradict the prosecution story.

Third,  given that PW3 himself claims to not being present at the time of the incident, his statement can at best be construed to mean that no charas was recovered in front of him, and not that no charas was recovered from the appellants at all.”

As correctly appreciated by the High Court in detail, non examination of independent witnesses would not ipso facto entitle one to seek acquittal. Though a heighted standard of care is imposed on the court in such instances but there is nothing to suggest that the High Court was not cognizant of this duty. Rather, the consequence of upholding the trial Court’s reasoning would amount to compulsory examination of each and every witness attached to the formation of a document. Not only is the imposition of such a standard of proof unsupported by statute but it is also unreasonably onerous in our opinion. The High Court has rightly relied upon the testimonies of the government officials having found them to be impeccable after detailed re appreciation of the entire evidence. We see no reason to disagree with such finding(s).”

There is no gainsaid that High Courts are well within their power to reverse an acquittal and award an appropriate sentence; though   they   cautiously   exercise   such   powers   in   practice. Illustratively, a few permissible reasons which would necessitate such interference by the High Court include patent errors of law, grave miscarriage of justice, or perverse findings of fact. Here, the trial Court appreciated facts in a mechanical manner and dismissed the prosecution case based on a mis interpretation of law, particularly qua satisfying the burden of proof. Hence, there were more than enough reasons for the High Court to interfere with the acquittal and arrive at a different finding.”

The appellants’ claim that the High Court erred in not considering non­compliance with Section 50 of the NDPS Act at the stage of appeal,   is also premised upon a   mistaken understanding of the law.”

For the afore­stated reasons, we do not find any merit in these appeals which are accordingly dismissed. The appellants’ bail bonds, if any, are cancelled and the respondent­ State is directed to take them into custody to serve the remainder of their ten ­year sentences. All other pending applications are disposed of accordingly.”

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