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SUPREME COURT HAS SET ASIDE GUJRAT HIGH COURT JUDGEMENT AND RELEASED THE ACCUSED FOR THE OFFENCE OF ROBERRY & MURDER

CASE NAME: THAKORE UMEDSING NATHUSING V. STATE OF GUJARAT
CASE NUMBER: CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.1102 OF 2024

DATED ON: FEBRUARY 22, 2024
QUORUM: Honourable Justice B.R. Gavai & Justice Sandeep Mehta

FACTS OF THE CASE:

The appellants, Thakore Laxmansing Halsing, Thakore Pravinsing Rajsing, Thakore Umedsing Nathusing, Thakore Khemsing Halsing, and Thakore Prabhatsing Kapursing, were tried in Sessions Case Nos. 107 and 143 of 1990 respectively. They were convicted under Section 392 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 5,000/­. The trial court acquitted them of the charges under Sections 302 read with Section 34 and Sections 396 and 397 IPC. The appellants appealed, while the State appealed, seeking acquittal.

A man named Vithalbhai Kachrabhai Barot was accused of murdering a man who used to drive a Jeep. The case was registered at Gadh Police Station, Taluka Palanpur, Gujarat, and an investigation began. On March 2, 1990, a jeep was driven away at high speed near Charannagar, Ahmedabad. Four persons alighted from the jeep and tried to run away. One of them, Laxmansing (A1), was chased down and confessed to the murder and looting of the vehicle. The remaining four accused were apprehended, and a blood-stained knife was recovered.

The investigation concluded that the accused took the jeep taxi of Bharatbhai (deceased) on hire and murdered the victim and looted the jeep. Two separate charge sheets were filed against the accused, and both sets were committed to the Sessions Court, Banaskantha, at Palanpur. The accused pleaded not guilty and claimed to be tried. After hearing the arguments and appreciating the evidence, the trial court acquitted A1, A2, A3, and A5 in entirety. They were convicted for the offense punishable under Section 392 of the IPC and sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5,000/¬. The High Court reversed the acquittal and convicted them for the offenses punishable under Sections 302 and 396 IPC, sentenced them to life imprisonment, and maintained the fine and default sentence imposed by the trial court.

LEGAL PROVISIONS:

  • INDIAN PENAL CODE:
  • Section-34: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention ; When a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.
  • Section-302: Punishment for murder; Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.
  • Section_392: Punishment for Robbery; Whoever commits robbery shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; and, if the robbery be committed on the highway between sunset and sunrise, the imprisonment may be extended to fourteen years.
  • Section-396: Dacoity with Murder; If any one of five or more persons, who are conjointly committing dacoity, commits murder in so committing dacoity, every one of those persons shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, or rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
  • Section-397: Robbery or dacoity, with attempt to cause death or grievous hurt; If, at the time of committing robbery or dacoity, the offender uses any deadly weapon, or causes grievous hurt to any person, so attempts to cause death or grievous hurt to any person, the imprisonment with which such offender shall be punished shall not be less than seven years.

ISSUES RAISED:

Two fundamental issues are presented for adjudication in these appeals:­

  • The scope of interference by High Court in an appeal challenging acquittal of the accused by the trial Court;
  • The standard of proof required to bring home charges in a case based purely on circumstantial evidence.

SUBMISSIONS ON BEHALF OF ACCUSED APPELLANTS:­

The learned counsel for accused appellants argue that the prosecution failed to prove the ownership or possession of a jeep bearing registration No. GJ-08-114 by the deceased. They also argue that the incriminating articles were never examined through the Forensic Sciences Laboratories (FSL), and only blood samples were sent for serological examination. The accused also argue that there is no reliable evidence establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and that the convictions of A2, A3, and A5 are based solely on the confessional statement of A1, which is inadmissible in evidence under Sections 25 and 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The accused contend that the High Court’s findings are based on conjectures and surmises, and they are entitled to an acquittal.

 

SUBMISSIONS ON BEHALF OF RESPONDENT­ STATE:­

Appearing for the respondent­ State vehemently opposed the submissions advanced by the learned counsel representing the accused­ appellants. She submitted that the High Court, after thorough and apropos appreciation of the substantial and convincing circumstantial evidence led by the prosecution, has recorded unimpeachable findings holding the accused guilty of the offences. She thus implored the Court to dismiss the appeals and affirm the judgment of the High Court.

COURTS ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT:

The court has analysed the impugned judgement and the evidence available on record, finding that the prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence, including disclosures, recoveries, and discoveries, to bring home the guilt of the accused. The most important recovery is attributed to A1, who was apprehended by PSI J.N. Chaudhary on 02nd March, 1990. He forwarded a report/communication dated 2nd March, 1990, wherein A1 confessed to the crime of murdering the jeep driver and looting the jeep and named the other accused persons as particeps criminis.

The court found that the confession of an accused in custody recorded by a police officer is inadmissible in evidence as the same would be hit by Section 25 of the Evidence Act. The prosecution did not even attempt to prove the confessional part of the communication . The court also found that the identity of A2, A3, and A5 as the assailants on the basis of the disclosure statement of A1 were primarily convicted on the basis of the recoveries of knives and clothes.

The court found that the recoveries were highly doubtful and tainted, as they did not lead to any conclusive circumstance in form of Serological report establishing the presence of the same blood group as that of the deceased. Furthermore, the prosecution failed to lead the link evidence mandatorily required to establish the factum of safe keeping of the muddamal articles, making the recoveries irrelevant.

The court has already doubted the veracity of the disclosure statement of A1 as recorded by and concluded that the evidentiary value of the confession of one co-accused against the other cannot be treated as substantive evidence.

The prosecution failed to provide reliable evidence to prove the accused’s guilt for murder under Section 302 IPC. The High Court did not record any finding that the trial court’s view was perverse or unfavorable. The judgment is based on conjectures and surmises, rather than substantive or reliable circumstantial evidence. The conviction for Section 392 is also based on the same set of inadmissible and unreliable links of circumstantial evidence.

CONCLUSION: ­

The High Court of Gujarat in Ahmedabad has quashed and set aside two previous judgements, Criminal Appeal No. 1012 of 1993 and Criminal Appeal No. 949 of 1994, which were based on the same record. The trial court’s judgment dated 21st August, 1993, convicting and sentencing the accused for offences punishable under Section 392 IPC, is also quashed and set aside. The appellants are acquitted of the charges and are directed to be set at liberty immediately, unless otherwise required.

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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY: ABHISHEK SINGH

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