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Burden of proof cannot be shifted to accused in criminal cases: High Court of Orissa

In a criminal trial, the prosecution needs to establish each and every circumstance with certainty and even if they fail to do so, the burden of proof cannot be shifted to the defence. This issue was addressed by a bench of the High Court of Orissa consisting of Justice S.K. Mishra and Justice Pramath Patnaik in the case of Pradeep Behera v State of Orissa [CRLA No. 228 of 2003] on the 11th of June 2021.

The appellant, Pradeep Behera was convicted of murdering his wife, Pratima Behera to whom he was married for 12 years prior to her death. The deceased sustained serious burn injuries which she eventually succumbed to in hospital on 31st July 2002. The appellant was charged under Section 302 and 498A of the Indian Penal Code for murder and harassment of a woman. The Additional Sessions Judge, Bhawaniputra observed that as the accused was unable to substantiate his claim that his wife had committed suicide and as there was no other person present at the time of her death, the circumstances of the case establishes his guilt. As a result of this the appellant was convicted and appealed to the High Court to set his conviction aside.

The High Court noted that in any criminal trial, the prosecution must establish each and every circumstance beyond reasonable doubt and all circumstances should form a complete chain of events pointing to the guilt of the accused. In the immediate case however, it was pointed out that the Additional Sessions Judge had shifted the burden of proof onto the appellant instead of expecting the prosecution to do fulfil their responsibility. 

Justice S.K. Mishra stated that “It is well settled principle of appreciation of evidence that the prosecution must establish its case beyond all reasonable doubt unless the law provides exceptions to the same and if the prosecution fails to discharge its burden initially then the onus will never be shifted to the defense and such shifting of burden as resorted to by the learned Additional Sessions Judge, Bhawanipatna is erroneous and liable to be interfered with”. It was concluded that “In the result, this Court finds that the conviction of the appellant under Section 302 of the Penal Code cannot be upheld by this Appellate Court, as the prosecution has miserably proved its case beyond all reasonable doubt”.

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