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In appeal against acquittal, appellate court would interfere only when there is perversity: SC

In an appeal against acquittal, where the presumption of innocence in favour of the accused is reinforced, the appellate court would interfere with the order of acquittal only when there is perversity. In this case, it cannot be said that the reasons given by the High Court to reverse the conviction of the accused are flimsy, untenable or bordering on perverse appreciation of evidence. (Para 34)



THE STATE OF ODISHA VS. BANABIHARI MOHAPATRA AND ANR.

CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No.1156/2021

Decided on February 12th, 2021

The present case was decided by a division bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Hemant Gupta.

In the above-cited case, a special leave petition was filed by the state of Odisha challenging the order by the High Court for acquitting the respondents from charges under Sections 302/201 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Earlier in the case, a complaint FIR was lodged by the complainant for the murder of her husband caused by electric shocks. The complainant had alleged that the Accused No.1 Banabihari Mohapatra, his son Luja, being the Accused No.2, and other accomplices committed murder of her husband by applying an electric shock to him after administering some poisonous substances to him. In the Trial Court, because of lack of evidence, both the accused were acquitted u/s 235(1) of the CrPC. The post mortem doctor opined that the deceased was intoxicated with alcohol and the death was either accidental, or homicidal, but not suicidal. There was no conclusive evidence that the death was homicidal.


We have carefully gone through the judgment of the Sessions Judge, Bhadrak, holding that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against the Accused Respondents or either of them under Section 302, or Section 201 read with Section 34 of the IPC, and acquitting them under Section 235(1) of the Cr.P.C. [Para 13]


The post mortem doctor opined that the deceased was intoxicated with alcohol and the death was either accidental, or homicidal, but not suicidal. There is no conclusive evidence that the death was homicidal. [Para 15]


The complaint lodged by the complainant is apparently based on suspicion. The mere fact that the deceased was lying dead at a room held by the the Accused Respondent No.1 and that the Accused Respondents had informed the complainant that the deceased had been lying motionless does not establish that the Accused Respondents murdered the deceased. At the cost of repetition, it is reiterated that the post mortem report suggests that the death could have been accidental.


Prosecution has failed to show a link between the proposed visit of the deceased to his Aunt’s house with the guilt, if any, of the Accused Respondents. [Para 28]

The deceased had been intoxicated with alcohol. The Medical Officer found electrical wounds in the leg which were sufficient to cause death. He opined that the injuries sustained by the deceased might have been due to contact with live electric wire. He opined that the contact was prolonged. The injuries were ante mortem. This witness was of the opinion that the death may have been accidental or homicidal, but not suicidal. [Para 30]


Before a case against an accused can be said to be fully established on circumstantial evidence, the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn must fully be established and the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of guilt of the accused. There has to be a chain of evidence so complete, as not to leave any reasonable doubt for any conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability, the act must have been done by the Accused. [Para 35]


The Court then relied on landmark cases such as Kali Ram v. State of Himachal Pradesh AIR 1973 SC 2773, Sujit Biswas v. State of Assam AIR 2013 SC 3817 and Shanti Devi v. State of Rajasthan (2012) 12 SCC 158 in order to highlight the principles for conviction based on circumstantial evidence and stated that the circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be proved must be cogently or firmly established. The circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards the guilt of the accused. The circumstances taken cumulatively must form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability, the crime was committed by the accused and none else. The circumstantial evidence in order to sustain conviction must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be inconsistent with his innocence.


Hence, the Apex Court held, based on the above test that the Accused cannot be convicted on the ground of suspicion, no matter how strong it is. An accused person is presumed to be innocent unless proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And since no evidence of murder could be found from the testimonies of several witnesses, the prosecution failed to prove the link between all the incidents which happened on the day of her husband’s death. The court observed that the prosecution miserably failed to establish the guilt of the Accused Respondents.


Referring to the judgments of Sadhu Saran Singh v. State of U.P. reported in 2016 (4) SCC 357, the court stated that “Before a case against an accused can be said to be fully established on circumstantial evidence, the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn must fully be established and the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused. There has to be a chain of evidence so complete, as not to leave any reasonable doubt for any conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability, the act must have been done by the Accused”.


Hence, the Apex Court upheld the judgment of the Trial Court and High Court and mentioned that there was a strong possibility that the accused, intoxicated with alcohol, might have accidentally touched a live electrical wire, while he was asleep, and therefore, the accused were acquitted from the charges of the murder and the special leave petition was dismissed by the bench Supreme Court.



Keerthana R

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