Prosecution needs to prove each of the links in the chain of circumstances beyond reasonable doubt: Patna High Court

No doubt that the offence committed was gruesome and revolts the conscience but that alone could not have been a ground to convict the accused- appellant in absence of legal evidence against them. This was said in the case of The State of Bihar v Prashant Kumar Mehta and Ors [CRIMINAL APPEAL No. 301 of 2018] by Justice Ashwani Kumar Singh and Justice Arvind Srivastava in High Court of Judicature at Patna.

The facts date back to 15th February 2018 when the Sessions Court convicted the three appellants offences under sec. 302 read with sec. 34, 376(2)(g) and 120B of the Indian Penal Code and awarded death penalty post confirmation from the High Court via sec. 366 of CrPC. The appellants separately challenged their conviction and sentence imposed by the trial court before the High Court.

The appellants contended that from the evidences adduced during trial, it is apparent that the prosecution witnesses have not witnesses either rape or killing of the deceased. They further contended that, apart from suspicion based on a feeble motive, no material is brought on record to suggest rape or existence of a criminal conspiracy amongst the accused persons to commit the act.

On the other hand the State contended that the knife used in the offence as disclosed by one of the convicts was recovered in the presence of witnesses. It further contended that the confessional statements made by the accused persons recorded by the police suggests that the confession of all the convicts corresponds to each other admitting the role played by them.

With respect to the value to be given to a statement recorded under Section 164 Cr.P.C, the Court referred to the case of Ram Kishan Singh Vs. Harmit Kaur [AIR 1972 SC 468], the Supreme Court held as under “A statement under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C. is not substantive evidence. It can be used to corroborate the statement of a witness. It can be used to contradict a witness”. In the present case, the prosecution witness had resiled from his statement made under Section 164 Cr.P.C. while disposing before the court. He stated in his cross-examination that his statement under Section 164 Cr.P.C. was given under threat and coercion. Hence, the prosecution cannot take any benefit out of his statement even for the purposes of corroboration of his previous statement.

After closely analyzing the facts of the present case in the background of the ratio laid in the above case,  the Court observed that “as there is no eyewitness to the occurrence and no witness has come forward to even suggest that the appellants were seen either with the deceased on the fateful day or were seen in an around the maize field of Satyanarayan Mandal where the dead body was recovered, the only link of criminal conspiracy against the appellants is the allegation that they committed offence together and, on that basis, a criminal conspiracy to commit the act has been erroneously presumed to be proved by the trial court”. This lead them to conclude that the entire bucket of evidence is either inadmissible or unbelievable and untrustworthy. Hence, the Court set aside impugned judgment of conviction, consequent order of death sentence passed by the trial court and allowed the appeal.

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