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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

Click here to view the full judgement: THAKORE UMEDSING NATHUSING V. STATE OF GUJARAT

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“Appellate Court cannot overturn the order of acquittal only on the ground that another view is possible”: Supreme Court

Case title: Bhupatbhai Bachubhai Chavda & Anr. v. State of Gujarat

Case no.: Criminal Appeal no. 334 of 2019

Dated on: 10th April 2024

Quorum: Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan

FACTS OF THE CASE

The case revolves around an incident that occurred on September 17, 1996, where the appellants, a father and son, were accused of assaulting Punjabhai (the deceased) with pipes and sticks, resulting in his death. Initially, the Sessions Court acquitted the appellants, but the State of Gujarat appealed against the acquittal, leading to the High Court converting the acquittal into a conviction. Subsequently, the case reached the Supreme Court.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The learned senior counsel appearing for the appellants pointed out that the High Court, while overturning the order of acquittal, had relied upon the police statement of PW-4 and had erroneously put the burden on the appellants to adduce evidence to show their innocence. He submitted that the entire approach of the High Court while dealing with an appeal against acquittal, is completely erroneous. He submitted that there is no finding recorded by the High Court that the only possible view which could be taken based on the evidence was that the guilt of the appellants had been proved. The learned senior counsel submitted that the High Court had erred in overturning the order of acquittal.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS

The learned counsel appearing for the State vehemently submitted that in an appeal against acquittal, the High Court was duty-bound to reappreciate the evidence, and after finding that evidence of PW-4, an eyewitness, completely inspires confidence, the High Court rightly interfered with the order of acquittal.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) : Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) : Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intentionWhen 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.

ISSUE

  1. Validity of High Court’s Intervention: Whether the High Court’s interference with the acquittal was justified and in accordance with legal principles.
  2. Reliability of Witness Testimonies: Assessment of the credibility of key witnesses, particularly PW-4, in light of inconsistencies and discrepancies in their statements.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The apex court emphasized the cardinal principle that while reviewing an acquittal, the Appellate Court must ascertain if the trial court’s verdict was plausible based on evidence. It criticized the High Court for not addressing this pivotal question and cautioned against overturning acquittals merely on the basis of alternative interpretations. The court chastised the High Court’s misapplication of burden of proof, reiterating that unless statutorily mandated, the onus remains on the prosecution.

After meticulously dissecting the testimonies, the Supreme Court concurred with the Trial Court’s scepticism towards the eyewitness account, citing inconsistencies and vested interests. It rebuked the High Court’s failure to appreciate these nuances and reinstated the acquittal, affirming the presumption of innocence. Consequently, the appellants were acquitted, and the Trial Court’s verdict reinstated.

The Bhupatbhai Bachubhai Chavda case stands as a testament to the judiciary’s commitment to rigorous scrutiny and adherence to legal principles, especially in appeals against acquittals. It underscores the importance of evidence appreciation and the presumption of innocence, serving as a beacon in navigating the labyrinth of criminal litigation.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Chiraag K A

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“Supreme Court Upholds Acquittal in Cheque Dishonour Case Due to Lack of Valid Documentary Evidence Supporting Enforceable Debt or Liability”

Case title: M/S Rajco Steel Enterprises v. Kavita Saraff and Anr.

Case no.: Petition for Special Leave to Appeal (Criminal) No.5583 Of 2022

Order on: 9th April 2024

Quorum: Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice Sanjay Kumar

FACTS OF THE CASE

The case of M/S Rajco Steel Enterprises v. Kavita Saraff and Another, decided by the Supreme Court of India, delves into the intricate provisions of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881 (“1881 Act”). The petitioner, a partnership firm dealing in iron and steel products, sought to appeal against the acquittal of the first respondent regarding offenses under Section 138 of the 1881 Act. The judgment, authored by Justice Aniruddha Bose, meticulously examines the evidence and legal principles involved.

The petitioner lodged four complaint cases against the first respondent, alleging dishonor of cheques issued between November 7, 2008, and November 24, 2008, drawn on Axis Bank Limited, Burra Bazar, Kolkata. The petitioner asserted that these cheques, totalling significant amounts, were issued in discharge of a debt owed to them. In response, the first respondent contended that the petitioner had not provided financial assistance but had utilized her bank account for stock market transactions. Additionally, she alleged that the cheques were illegally procured and presented for encashment.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

Rajco Steel Enterprises, represented by Mr. Raju Ramchandran, argued that all elements of Section 138 of the 1881 Act were satisfied, as Saraff’s signature on the cheques and the receipt of funds were undisputed. Ramchandran contended that once these elements were proven, the burden shifted to Saraff to prove that the cheques were not issued to discharge a valid debt. He cited various precedents to support this argument.

Referring to the judgment in the case of D.K. Chandel v. Wockhardt Limited [1], he has further submitted that once the main ingredients of the offence are established, production of the books of accounts is not strictly necessary in a proceeding under the 1881 Act relating to dishonour of cheques. He has cited the case of Rohitbhai Jivanlal Patel v. State of Gujarat and Another [2] to contend that factors relating to source of funds and other documentary evidence for advancing money are not relevant for consideration on the question of rebuttal of presumption by the accused.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS

On behalf of Kavita Saraff, her defense centered on the contention that the cheques were not issued to discharge any debt owed to Rajco Steel Enterprises. Instead, she claimed that the funds were for stock market transactions conducted through her account on behalf of the firm. Saraff argued that the presumption of guilt under Sections 118 and 139 of the 1881 Act did not apply, as there was no legally enforceable debt.

In the light of the judgment of this Court in the case of Narendra Pratap Narain Singh v. State of U.P. [3] the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 136 of the Constitution of India to interfere with concurrent findings of fact is not in question, when such findings are based on no evidence or are perverse.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

Section 118 of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881: Presumptions as to negotiable instruments.

Section 138 of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881: Dishonour of cheque for insufficiency, etc., of funds in the account.

Section 139 of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881: Presumption in favour of holder – It shall be presumed, unless the contrary is proved, that the holder of a cheque received the cheque of the nature referred to in section138 for the discharge, in whole or in part, of any debt or other liability.

ISSUE

The whole question involved in this proceeding is as to whether the cheques were issued in discharge of a debt and if it was so, then whether the accused/respondent no.1 was able to rebut the presumption in terms of Section 118 read with Section 139 of the 1881 Act.

  • Whether the cheques were issued to discharge a legally enforceable debt.
  • Whether the presumption of guilt under Sections 118 and 139 of the 1881 Act applies.
  • Whether the appellate courts’ findings were based on sufficient evidence or were perverse.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The Trial Court initially convicted Saraff, finding that the cheques were issued to discharge a debt and that she failed to rebut the presumption of guilt. However, the First Appellate Court and the High Court overturned this decision, citing lack of evidence of a valid debt and discrepancies in the signatures on the cheques.

The Supreme Court analyzed the evidence presented by both parties and concluded that Rajco Steel Enterprises failed to establish the existence of a legally enforceable debt. The Court noted that Saraff’s defense regarding the purpose of the funds received was plausible and that the firm’s balance-sheet did not reflect the alleged debt. Consequently, the Court upheld the acquittal, finding no perversity in the appellate courts’ decisions.

The Supreme Court dismissed the petitions for special leave to appeal, affirming the acquittal of Kavita Saraff. The Court held that the findings of the appellate courts were not based on no evidence or were perverse. As no point of law warranted interference, the Court upheld the lower courts’ decisions.

The case of M/S Rajco Steel Enterprises v. Kavita Saraff and Another underscores the importance of establishing the existence of a legally enforceable debt in cases of dishonored cheques. The burden of proof shifts to the accused to rebut the presumption of guilt, but this requires sufficient evidence of a debt. In this case, the appellate courts found no such evidence, leading to the acquittal of the respondent.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Chiraag K A

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[1] [(2020) 13 SCC 471]

[2] [(2019) 18 SCC 106]

[3] [(1991) 2 SCC 623]

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“Supreme Court Emphasizes Weakness of Extra Judicial Confession; Acquits Defendant Dharambir in Murder Case”

Case title: Dharambir @ Dharma v. State of Haryana

Case no.: Criminal Appeal No.1858 of 2009

Order on: 16th April 2024

Quorum: Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta

FACTS OF THE CASE

On June 5, 1998, at around 8:30 a.m., the deceased, Karambir, along with his brother Krishan Kumar and others, went to Prabhat Cinema, Bhiwani. At approximately 11:30 a.m., the accused, Dharambir, who was also present there, stabbed Karambir in the chest, resulting in his death. The motive alleged was Dharambir’s suspicion that Karambir was involved in illicit relations with his wife.

Rohtas Singh, the Inspector/SHO of Police Station City Bhiwani, received information about the incident and initiated the investigation. The accused was arrested, and a chargesheet was filed against him under Section 302 IPC.

During the trial, the prosecution primarily relied on the testimonies of Krishan Kumar, the first informant, and Ram Kumar, who claimed an extra-judicial confession by the accused.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

Dharambir’s counsel argued that Krishan Kumar’s testimony was unreliable due to inconsistencies and contradictions. They pointed out discrepancies in Krishan Kumar’s account of the events, including the timing of the incident and the seating arrangements at the cinema hall.

Additionally, they highlighted that no blood stains were found on Krishan Kumar, raising doubts about his presence at the crime scene. Regarding the extrajudicial confession, they argued that it lacked credibility as it was contradicted by another witness, Piare Lal.

He placed reliance on the judgment rendered by this Court in the case of Pritinder Singh Alias Lovely v. State of Punjab and contended that an extra judicial confession is a very weak piece of evidence and since the testimony of the witness, Ram Kumar, before whom the accused allegedly made the extra judicial confession, has been contradicted by evidence of Piare Lal, there cannot be any justification to rely upon his evidence as well.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS

The State argued that Krishan Kumar’s testimony was trustworthy as he had no reason to falsely implicate Dharambir. They asserted that Ram Kumar’s testimony corroborated Krishan Kumar’s account, strengthening the prosecution’s case. The State contended that the concurrent findings of the trial court and the High Court supported the conviction and should not be overturned.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

IPC Section 302 prescribes the punishment for murder: “Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

ISSUE

The core issue was the reliability of the prosecution’s key witnesses. The court analyzed the testimonies of Krishan Kumar and Ram Kumar, finding inconsistencies and improbabilities that cast doubt on their credibility. It noted contradictions in their accounts and lack of corroboration.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The appellant, Dharambir @ Dharma, was acquitted of the charge of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) by the Supreme Court of India.

Given the weakness of the prosecution’s evidence, especially the unreliable testimonies of the key witnesses, the court concluded that the guilt of the accused was not established beyond reasonable doubt. Consequently, the appellant was acquitted, and the appeal was allowed.

The court acquitted the appellant, Dharambir @ Dharma, of the murder charge, as the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The judgments of the trial court and the high court were quashed, and the appellant was acquitted. The appeal was allowed, and the appellant was discharged from bail.

This judgment underscores the importance of reliable evidence and the need for the prosecution to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt in criminal cases.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Chiraag K A

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Bombay High Court acquits a man convicted for murder for lack of evidence

Title: Suresh v. The State of Maharashtra and Ors.

Decided on: 18th JULY, 2023

+ Cri.Apeal.513/2016

CORAM: SMT. VIBHA KANKANWADI AND ABHAY S. WAGHWASE, JJ.

Facts of the Case:

Appellant had illicit relations with one Shobhabai. Deceased Anil desisted appellant from maintaining and continuing such relations. Therefore, according to prosecution, deceased was viewed as obstruction and to eliminate him, appellant called him near the water tank and by use of knife he stabbed him to death and thereafter threw the body in the well for causing disappearance of evidence. Hence, he convicted for offences under IPC Sec. 302 and 201. This was challenged by him in this appeal.

Issues

Was the conviction of the appellant valid?

Contentions

The appellants claimed that the conviction was wrong for there was no incriminating evidence proving his guilt; The conviction was based only on circumstantial evidence and not any direct evidence. The prosecution was not able to prove beyond reasonable doubt and therefore, the accused must be given the benefit of doubt.

The Respondents contented that the appellant was rightly contended as there was enough incriminating evidence. The appellant being the last person in the company of deceased, he is rightly arrested, tried and rightly held guilty. As per the statement of the deceased’s wife he went to the tank (place where he was found dead) only after receiving a call from the appellant. The appellant was also seen purchasing a knife. All the evidence directly points to his involvement in the death and therefore, he is rightly convicted.

Decision

The evidence presented by the Respondents is not direct evidence. None of the circumstances firmly and cogently proved beyond reasonable doubt. The chain of circumstances is not getting complete. Therefore, case of prosecution cannot be said to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Therefore, the appellant was acquitted and the previous order of the Court was set aside.

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Written by- Aparna Gupta, University Law College & Dept. of Studies in Law

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