Strong suspicion cannot take the place of proof: Supreme Court of India

Accused cannot be held convicted on the ground of suspicion, no matter how strong it is. An accused is presumed to be innocent unless proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Supreme Court of India upheld the judgment of the High Court and acquitted the accused convicted on the charges of murder in the case of The State of Odisha vs. Banabihari Mohapatra and Anr [Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No.1156/2021] presided over by the bench of Hon’ble Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Hemant Gupta.

In the above-cited case, a special leave petition was filed by the state of Odisha challenging the order by the High Court for acquitting the respondents from charges under Sections 302/201 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Petitioner’s counsel argued that the High Court had committed an error by acquitting the convicts charged for serious offences like Murder. Earlier in the case, a complaint FIR was lodged by the complainant for the murder of her husband caused by electric shocks. The complainant had alleged that the Accused No.1 Banabihari Mohapatra, his son Luja, being the Accused No.2, and other accomplices committed murder of her husband by applying an electric shock to him after administering some poisonous substances to him. In the Trial Court, because of lack of evidence, both the accused were acquitted u/s 235(1) of the CrPC. The post mortem doctor opined that the deceased was intoxicated with alcohol and the death was either accidental, or homicidal, but not suicidal. There was no conclusive evidence that the death was homicidal.

The Medical Officer found electrical wounds in the leg which were sufficient to cause death. He opined that the injuries sustained by the deceased might have been due to contact with live electric wire. He opined that the contact was prolonged. The injuries were ante mortem. And no evidence of murder could be found from the testimonies of several witnesses and the prosecution failed to prove the link between all the incidents which happened on the day of her husband’s death. The court observed that the prosecution miserably failed to establish the guilt of the Accused Respondents.

Referring to the judgments of Sadhu Saran Singh v. State of U.P. reported in 2016 (4) SCC 357, the court stated that “Before a case against an accused can be said to be fully established on circumstantial evidence, the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn must fully be established and the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused. There has to be a chain of evidence so complete, as not to leave any reasonable doubt for any conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability, the act must have been done by the Accused”.

Hence, the Apex Court upheld the judgment of the Trial Court and High Court and mentioned that there was a strong possibility that the accused, intoxicated with alcohol, might have accidentally touched a live electrical wire, while he was asleep, and therefore, the accused were acquitted from the charges of the murder and the special leave petition was dismissed by the bench Supreme Court

The court stated that “Suspicion, however strong cannot take the place of proof. An accused is presumed to be innocent unless proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”.

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