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Delhi HC suspends appellant’s sentence; States unjust to keep them for extended time if the court cannot hear the appeal promptly.

CASE TITLE – BHIMA ALIAS MANOJ & Ors. v. STATE (GOVT. OF NCT OF DELHI)

CASE NUMBER – CRL.A. 643/2022, CRL.A. 236/2023, CRL.A. 5/2023

DATED ON – 28th March, 2024

QUORUM – Hon’ble Ms. Justice Jyoti Singh

 

FACTS OF THE CASE

The Appellants, Bhima Manoj, Ravi, and Munesh, have filed these applications under Section 389 Cr.P.C. seeking sentence suspension in FIR No.118/2011 registered under Sections 307/34 IPC at Mayur Vihar, Delhi police station. These motions for sentence suspension were heard jointly and are being considered by one joint order because the appeals stem from the same FIR and common judgement. On May 3, 2011, a police team arrived to the scene after receiving DD No. 77B, which stated that an individual had been stabbed during a fight at 29/242, Trilok Puri, Delhi, and was en route to the hospital. They discovered that the injured had been transferred to LBS Hospital. There was no witness present at the spot. As soon as IO arrived to the hospital, he picked up Sunil and Suraj’s MLC.  According to Sunil’s recorded statement, he and his friend Suraj were drinking alcohol at a park in Block-29, Trilok Puri at around 9.30 p.m. When the complainants, Ravi, Bhima, and Munesh, arrived and asked for drinks, the complainants refused, and the three of them began beating them. Ravi struck Bhima and Munesh with a pointed weapon, while Bhima held Sunil and Suraj. Suraj was struck in the back and stomach, and Sunil was struck in the chest. The three later left, and after someone at number 100 complained, the police arrived and a formal report was filed.  The MLC for Sunil believed the damage to be simple, but the MLC for Suraj believed the injury to be severe. Prior to the addition of Section 325 IPC by IO, the FIR was filed under Sections 324 and 34 IPC. Charge sheet under Sections 325/307/34 IPC was submitted, and learned MM, by decision dated January 5, 2015, committed the case to the Court of Sessions after taking cognizance of the crimes. Following the trial and hearing of the arguments, the learned Sessions Court found the appellants guilty of violating Sections 307 and 34 of the IPC.

This was stated in the judgement dated September 28, 2022, and in the sentence order dated November 25, 2022. The appellants were sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment, a fine of Rs. 7,000 per year, and, in the event that they failed to appear, three months of simple imprisonment for violating Section 307 of the IPC.

ISSUES

Whether the sentences of the Appellants should be suspended pending the resolution of their appeals?

 

CONTENTIONS BY THE APPELLANT

Frequently, arguments put forth by the appellants assert that they are innocent and that Sunil and Suraj, the purported victims, have wrongly implicated them. During the trial, all of the defendants were released on bond, and they never abused the freedom that the court had given them. Since the filing of the first formal complaint in 2011, the appellants have endured a protracted legal proceeding. Appellants served one year and four months in jail as of January 20, 2024, not counting any obtained remissions. They don’t have any criminal history and have no prior transgressions. Undisputedly, the complainants are well-known local criminals with multiple pending FIRs against them. According to criminal jurisprudence, the prosecution must prove the case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, and in this instance, the prosecution has not even been able to establish a prima facie case against the appellants. There is uncertainty and doubt around the case as a whole. It is documented that the complainants were well-known local criminals who had multiple cases against them both filed and pending. Many problems plague the prosecution’s case: PW-11 failed to look into the phone owner, and the anonymous 100 number caller was never identified. Despite not finding any liquor bottles at the site, PW-11 noted alcohol on the MLCs. The injuries did not correspond with the supposed sharp object, and no weapon was found. Independent witnesses, images, CCTV footage, or soil samples were not gathered. Section 307 IPC requires proof of intent and activity, but the conditions were not fulfilled. The case is further undermined by PW-3’s insufficient testimony, PW-4’s contradicting remarks, and PW-7’s lack of evidence. The attorneys argue for the Appellants’ release based on these inconsistencies and point to a strong likelihood of success on appeal.

CONTENTIONS BY THE RESPONDENT

The learned assistant public prosecutor for the state, on the other hand, contends that the appellants’ offences are grave and serious, and that their convictions were reached through persuasive evidence presented by the prosecution to the Sessions Court. This court is not at this time authorized to discuss the evidence’s merits; that will be addressed when the appeals are ultimately resolved. She goes on to say that there are distinctions between the pre-conviction bail request and the post-conviction sentence suspension request that the court must take into account. The presumption of innocence dissipates once an accused person is found guilty. It is also widely accepted that the fact that the appellants were released on bail during their trial and that there was no claim of their misuse of their freedom will not have much of an impact on the outcome of a request for a sentence suspension. The benefit of sentence suspension in serious offences is only available in extraordinary circumstances, as the courts have consistently held. The Appellants were given a sentence of seven years of rigorous imprisonment, a fine, and, in the event of a default, three months of simple imprisonment. Since they have only served one year and four months, without counting remissions, there is currently no basis established for the term to be suspended.

COURT ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, after hearing the learned counsels for the Appellants, acknowledged several significant issues in the prosecution’s case such as contradictions in the testimonies of prosecution witnesses, especially regarding the place of occurrence, non-recovery of evidence and one victim had simple injuries, and the other had grievous injuries. However, the grievous injury was not substantiated by the doctor’s oral testimony. Additionally, the court considered that the appeals are unlikely to be heard soon and that the appellants were young at the time of the incident, had no prior criminal records, and have endured a prolonged trial since 2011 and they have already been incarcerated for nearly 1 year and 6 months. Citing the Supreme Court’s observations in the Kashmira Singh case, the court noted that it would be unjust to keep the Appellants in jail for an extended period if the court cannot hear the appeal promptly.  Moreover, if the Appellants are ultimately found innocent, it would be difficult to compensate for the time spent in jail. Therefore, the Hon’ble High Court has ordered the appellants’ sentences to be suspended while their appeals are pending. This would enable them to be released on bail and provide two sureties each worth Rs. 50,000 in personal bonds. Their release on bond is subject to several requirements, such as not leaving the nation without a judge’s approval, abstaining from illegal activities, keeping in touch with the victim or anyone connected to them, giving the investigating officer (IO) their current and permanent residential addresses, and showing up in court when their appeals are heard.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Gnaneswarran Beemarao

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