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If there are inconsistencies in eyewitness testimony, failure to recover the weapon of crime would be fatal to the prosecution’s case: Supreme Court

Case title: Ram Singh Vs State of U.P

Case no.: Criminal Appeal No. 206 Of 2024

Decided on: 21.02.2024

Quorum: Hon’ble Justice Abhay S. Oka, Hon’ble Justice Ujjal Bhuyan.

 

Hon’ble Justices stated that, “ When there is direct eye witness account which is found to be credible, omission to obtain ballistic report and non- examination of ballistic expert may not be fatal to the prosecution case but if the evidence tendered including that of eyewitnesses do not inspire confidence or suffer from glaring inconsistencies coupled with omission to examine material witnesses, the omission to seek ballistic opinion and examination of the ballistic expert may be fatal to the prosecution case.”

 

BRIEF FACTS:

In the present case, appellant Ram Singh fired a shot with a country-made pistol, killing the informant’s mother. In the sessions trial, appellant Ram Singh was convicted under Sections 301 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. He also received a conviction under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code. The appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment under Section 301/302 IPC and five years rigorous imprisonment under Section 307 IPC, both sentences being served simultaneously.

As a result, the appellant’s appeal before the High Court of Judicature in Allahabad was dismissed. Consequently, the High Court confirmed the appellant’s conviction and sentence imposed by the Sessions Court. The current appeal is against the high court’s order.

 

COURT ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT:

Following a careful examination of the evidence, the court determined that the evidence presented by the eyewitnesses contains significant gaps. As a result, their evidence lacks credibility. Apart from that, no material witnesses have been questioned. Overall, the evidence presented on behalf of the prosecution cannot be considered complete proof, to the point where the failure to recover the weapon of offence, obtain a ballistic opinion, or examine a ballistic expert would be irrelevant.

The court on evidence for conviction ruled that the appellant should be given the benefit of the doubt because, according to us, the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. Any lingering doubt about an accused’s involvement in the crime for which he is accused must be considered by the court, and in such cases, the accused must be given the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true when the trial court acquits the co-accused based on the same evidence.

 

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Written by – Surya Venkata Sujith

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It is not necessary for every person constituting an unlawful assembly to play an active role for convicting him with the aid of Section 149 of the IPC: Supreme Court

Case title: Parshuram Vs State of M.P

Case no.: SLP (Crl.) No. 1718 of 2022

Decided on: 03.11.2023

Quorum: Hon’ble Justice B.R Gavai, Hon’ble Justice B.V Nagarathna, Hon’ble Justice Prasanth Kumar Mishra.

 

Hon’ble Justices stated that “the Constitution Bench has held that it is not necessary that every person constituting an unlawful assembly must play an active role for convicting him with the aid of Section 149 of IPC. What has to be established by the prosecution is that a person has to be a member of an unlawful assembly, i.e. he has to be one of the persons constituting the assembly and that he had entertained the common object along with the other members of the assembly.”

 

BRIEF FACTS:

The complainant party’s buffalo had damaged the shed, which the appellant had built on the village passage for the cattle. As a result, the appellant had driven the buffalo away by beating it with a lathi. When the appellant and the other accused individuals arrived at the man’s home after that, the man fled the house in terror. After smashing through the doors, the accused people beat three people inside the house before leaving.

Furthermore, the accused individuals, armed with deadly weapons like a sword, barchi, lathi, and a domestic bomb, waylaid the complainant party and caused injuries as they were riding a tractor to the police station to file the complaint. Serious injuries were sustained during this and one has died, leading to the filing of a formal complaint for violations of Sections 302, 323, 452, 148, and 149 of the IPC. The trail court sentenced the accused and the High Court subsequently upheld the Trial Court’s decision, which led to the accused parties’ conviction. As a result, the Supreme Court is hearing this appeal.

 

COURT ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT:

After carefully analysing the evidence, the court determined that the current appellants were clearly members of the unlawful assembly. Without a doubt, the present appellants play no specific role in assaulting the deceased.

Furthermore, based on the evidence presented, it is unclear whether the common purpose of the unlawful assembly was to cause the deceased’s death. It is entirely possible that the accused did not intend to cause the death of anyone from the complainant party. It is conceivable that the accused came together solely to teach the complainant party a lesson.

They therefore concluded that there is a benefit of doubt on appellant. The conviction under Section 302 of the IPC would be unsustainable. The prosecution has failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the unlawful assembly had the intent to kill the deceased. Part-II of Section 304 of the IPC replaces the conviction under Section 302 of the IPC.

 

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Written by – Surya Venkata Sujith

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Insufficient Evidence and Circumstantial Doubts Lead to Declaration of Acquittal of Accused: Supreme Court

Case Title: Pradeep Kumar v. State of Haryana

Case No: Criminal Appeal No. 1338 of 2010

Decided on:  5th January, 2024

CORAM: THE HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE B.R. GAVAI AND HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE P.S. NARASIMHA

Facts of the Case

In the present case, according to the Prosecution’s account, the deceased left his shop on a motorcycle to go to a market. When the deceased failed to return home that night, his wife informed the complainant. Seeking information about the deceased’s whereabouts, the complainant, accompanied by another prosecution witness, initiated a search. During the search, the complainant received information about a discovered dead body. Subsequently, the complainant and other prosecution witnesses reached the location and found the deceased with his throat bound by a piece of cloth. The complainant promptly reported the incident to the police, leading to the registration of an FIR. The Trial Court convicted the Appellant under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), sentencing them to life imprisonment for the murder of the deceased. Dissatisfied with this verdict, the Appellant appealed to the High Court of Punjab & Haryana, which upheld the conviction and sentence. Subsequently, the Appellant sought relief from the Supreme Court, challenging the decision of the High Court.

Issue

Whether the High Court’s ruling justified in the case of an individual accused under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860?

Legal Provision

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

Court’s analysis and decision

The court observed a substantial disparity between the allegations against the Appellant and the evidence presented by the prosecution. The circumstances outlined failed to establish the guilt of the Appellant; instead, they raised doubts, improbabilities, and inconsistencies. Emphasizing the need for caution when dealing with cases reliant on circumstantial evidence, the Supreme Court underscored the importance of careful scrutiny. Consequently, the Court acquitted the accused of all charges, leading to the allowance of the appeal.

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Written by- Afshan Ahmad

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Section 364A IPC Requires Proof of Abduction Coupled with Ransom Demand and Life Threat for Conviction: Supreme Court

Case Title: Neeraj Sharma v. State of Chhattisgarh

Case No: Criminal Appeal No. 1420 of 2019

Decided on:  3rd January, 2024

CORAM: THE HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE SUDHANSHU DHULIA AND HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE SATISH CHANDRA SHARMA

Facts of the Case

The Supreme Court received two appeals challenging the High Court’s decision to uphold the conviction order of the Trial Court. The appellants had been found guilty under Sections 307, 120B, 364-A, 392, and 397 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), and were sentenced to life imprisonment under Section 364A. Notably, the third accused was acquitted by the Trial Court. According to the prosecution, the appellants kidnapped a Class 12th student with the intention of demanding ransom, and during the incident, they attempted to kill him. Despite suffering severe injuries, the victim managed to escape, resulting in the amputation of his right leg. The accused had lured the victim, who was staying as a paying guest, for a motorcycle ride but later assaulted him, attempting to strangle him. Believing him to be dead, the accused poured petrol on him, set him on fire, and looted his mobile phone and cash. Miraculously, the victim survived, escaped, and sought medical assistance, leading to police intervention.

Issue

The main issue is the conviction of appellants for abduction, attempted murder, and ransom demand, leading to life imprisonment, with a key legal question about the sufficiency of evidence.

Legal Provision

Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is an offence where kidnapping or abduction is made and a person is put to death or hurt; or a person is threatened with death or actually murdered, on demand of ransom. 

Court’s analysis and decision

The Supreme Court has ruled that an offense under Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) does not apply if kidnapping or abduction occurs without any ransom demand. The Court resolved an appeal challenging the High Court’s affirmation of the conviction order by the Trial Court under Sections 307, 120B, 364-A, 392, and 397 of the IPC. It noted the prosecution’s failure to prove the existence of a ransom call, leading to the conclusion that the accused cannot be held liable under Section 364A IPC. Justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and Satish Chandra Sharma emphasized that Section 364A involves kidnapping or abduction resulting in a person’s death or harm, or a threat of death or murder upon a ransom demand.

The Court referred to the case of Shaik Ahmed v. State of Telangana [(2021) 9 SCC 59], highlighting three conditions to establish an offense under Section 364A. First, there must be a kidnapping or abduction. Second, there should be a threat of death or harm to the person, or the accused’s conduct must reasonably indicate such a threat. Third, the act must aim to compel the government, foreign state, intergovernmental organization, or any other person to perform or abstain from an act or pay a ransom.

The Court observed that the victim did not mention any ransom demand during examination, and the only mention in a supplementary police statement lacked substantial evidence. The Court criticized the Trial Court and High Court for overlooking this critical flaw in Section 364A evidence. It corrected the High Court’s characterization of the supplementary statement as a “dying declaration,” clarifying it as a statement under Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC).

The Bench partially allowed the appeals, changing the Section 364A conviction to Section 364 IPC with a ten-year rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.10,000/- for the accused. The remaining convictions under Sections 307, 120B, 392, and 397 IPC were upheld, along with a fine of Rs.50,000/- and a compensation of Rs.5,00,000/- directed to be paid to the victim under Section 357A of CrPC. The Court thus disposed of the appeal.

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Written by- Afshan Ahmad

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Civil disputes cannot be resolved through the criminal prosecution: Supreme Court of India.

Case Title: Jay Shri v. The State of Rajasthan

Case No: Criminal Appeal No. _ of 2024 (arising out of SLP(Crl.) No. 14423 of 2023)

Decided on:   19th January, 2024

CORAM: THE HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE SANJIV KHANNA AND HON’BLE MR.  JUSTICE DIPANKAR DATTA

Facts of the Case

The accused individuals were accused of entering into a sales agreement with the complainant, receiving Rs. 80 Lacs, and subsequently failing to complete the registration or refund the money. Consequently, an FIR was filed against them under Sections 420 and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code. The Supreme Court heard a criminal appeal challenging the order issued by the Jodhpur bench of the Rajasthan High Court.

Dissatisfied with the outcome, the accused sought anticipatory bail from the High Court. In their plea, among other arguments, they asserted that the matter pertained to a breach of contract and fell within the domain of civil disputes. Despite their contentions, the High Court rejected their bail plea, prompting them to file the current appeal.

Issue

The matter at hand involves assessing the practice of employing criminal prosecution as a means to settle disputes that are purely of a civil nature.

Legal Provision

Section 420 in the Indian Penal Code deals with Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property. It states that whoever cheats and thereby dishonestly induces the person deceived to deliver any property to any person, or to make, alter or destroy the whole or any part of a valuable security, or anything which is signed or sealed, and which is capable of being converted into a valuable security, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code makes it a punishable offence for a person to be a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence that is punishable with death, imprisonment for life, or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or more.

Court’s analysis and decision

The Supreme Court made a preliminary observation stating that a mere violation of a contract does not constitute an offense of cheating or breach of trust under the Indian Penal Code unless there is evidence of fraudulent or dishonest intent.

Furthermore, the Division Bench, comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta, disapproved of the transformation of purely civil disputes into criminal cases. Drawing on the precedent set in Indian Oil Corporation v. NEPC India Ltd. and Others, the Court emphasized that any attempt to resolve civil disputes and claims, devoid of any criminal wrongdoing, by exerting pressure through criminal prosecution should be criticized and discouraged.

After careful consideration, the Court found merit in the appellants’ request for anticipatory bail. Consequently, the Court approved their bail, explicitly stating that the observations made during this decision should not influence the final determination of the case.

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Written by- Afshan Ahmad

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