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“Offender uses any deadly weapon” under section 397 of Indian Penal Code also includes mere exhibition or brandishing of the weapon : Supreme Court

As per section 397 of Indian Penal Code that deals with use of any armed weapon during a robbery does not mean that the accused has to literally use the weapon in the sense he should actually fire or stab to be convicted under that section, this was decided by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice A.S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli in the case of RAM RATAN V. STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH [CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1333 OF 2018]

In the present case Rajesh Meena lodged a complaint on 27.06.2012, at around 02:30 AM Rajendra and Chotu woke him up and pointed a gun at him pointing towards his chest demanding money, complainant informed that he did not have any money so the accused took their motorcycle instead. Upon the completion of investigation the police charged the appellant under section 392/397 of IPC. The trial court also framed the charges under section 392/397 of IPC where the accused counsel argued that the charge under section 397 of IPC cannot be sustained because even if we assume that they carried the fire arm, they did not use it. The question that was adjudicated upon was whether the accused has to actually use the weapon in the sense he had to fire it in order to come under section 397 of IPC or not because if it did not then the punishment for the accused would be lesser that otherwise.

Upon this subject matter Justice Bopanna said that “it is clear that the use of the weapon to constitute the offence under section 397 IPC does not require that the offender should actually fire from the fire arm” and further held that mere showing or exhibition of it openly in a way that it threatens the victim is sufficient.” But in the present case where there was more than one accused, it was also observed that if the accused who was pointing the gun actually used it, then only he will be charged under section 397 of IPC. The Supreme Court also said that vicarious liability against the offenders will also be noted if they have been charged under section 397 if it is read with section 34 or section 149 of IPC. This section and the confusing language as to what does “using” a deadly weapon mean is somewhat puzzling because the word “use” has a lot of meanings. It can be said that apprehending fear in the mind of the complainant is sufficient to make the case come under section 397 of IPC because creating fear is also a “use” of the gun. We can take example of bank robberies from movies where the offender points a gun at the cashier and forces them to give the offender all the money, even though in such scenes the offender does not actually fire or shoot the cashier but the process of robbery is made easier and faster because of the gun pointed at the cashier’s head so it can be said that mere use of the gun or a knife is not just to shoot or stab the complainant but it is also to do any such thing that makes the process of robbery easier for the offender. Though the language of the section 397 of IPC may appear confusing, the Supreme Court has in detail analysed and understood the object of the law makers and rightly convicted the accused under section 397 of IPC.

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Judgment reviewed by Meenakshi Jena

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