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Initial presumption of innocence gets doubled by acquittal recorded by the trial court: SC

It has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that accused voluntarily accepted money knowing it to be bribe. Absence of proof of demand for illegal gratification and mere possession or recovery of currency notes is not sufficient to constitute such offence. (Para 12)

N.Vijayakumar V/s State of Tamil Nadu

Criminal Appeal No. 100­101 OF 2021 [Arising out of S.L.P.(Crl.)Nos.4729­4730 of 2020]

Decided on 03rd February, 2021

Counsel for Appellant: Sri S. Nagamuthu

Counsel for Respondent: Sri M. Yogesh Kanna

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice R. Subhash Reddy and Justice M.R. Shah set aside the decision of Madras High Court were it reversed the decision of the Trial court.

The appellant-­accused was working as Sanitary Inspector in 8th Ward of Madurai Municipal Corporation. He was chargesheeted for the offence under Sections 7, 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Act alleging that he demanded an amount of Rs.500/­ and a cell phone as illegal gratification from PW­2 (Thiru. D. Gopal)

Learned senior counsel appearing for the appellant submitted that (i) the well reasoned judgment of the trial court, which was rendered by appreciating oral and documentary evidence on record, is reversed by the High Court without recording valid and cogent reasons. By relying on a judgment of this Court in the case of Murugesan & Ors. v. State through Inspector of Police (2012) 10 SCC 383, mainly it is contended that the finding recorded by the trial court is a “possible view” having regard to evidence on record and even if other view is possible, same is no ground to reverse the acquittal and to convict the accused. (ii) there is no finding recorded by the High Court anywhere in the judgment that the view taken by the trial court is not a “possible view”. (iii) having regard to reasons recorded, findings recorded by the trial court cannot be said to be either erroneous or unreasonable. By further referring to the oral evidence on record, it is submitted that there are material contradictions in the testimony of crucial witnesses, and without noticing the same the High Court has convicted the appellant and imposed the sentence. (iv) that once the judgment is rendered and conviction is recorded it was not open either to list the matter for being mentioned or to convict the appellant for the offence under Section 7 of the Act also.

Learned counsel appearing for the Respondent­-State has submitted (i) that the evidence of PW­2, 3, 5 and PW­11 it is clearly proved that on 10.10.2003, the Appellant-­accused has demanded and accepted Rs.500/­ and a mobile phone as bribe to process the application of PW­2 for the extension of contract. (ii) that in spite of cogent and valid evidence on record, the trial court has acquitted the appellant, and same is rightly reversed by the High Court, as such there are no grounds to interfere with the same. (iii) that by noticing the minor contradictions, the trial court has acquitted the appellant, as such, the view taken by the trial court was not a “possible view”, and the appellant is rightly convicted by the High Court.

The Supreme Court in reference to B. Jayaraj v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2014) 13 SCC 55 observed the following:

This Court, fully supports the case of the appellant. In view of the contradictions noticed by us above in the depositions of key witnesses examined on behalf of the prosecution, we are of the view that the demand for and acceptance of bribe amount and cell phone by the appellant, is not proved beyond reasonable doubt. Having regard to such evidence on record the acquittal recorded by the trial court is a “possible view” as such the judgment of the High Court is fit to be set aside. Before recording conviction under the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, courts have to take utmost care in scanning the evidence. Once conviction is recorded under provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, it casts a social stigma on the person in the society apart from serious consequences on the service rendered. At the same time it is also to be noted that whether the view taken by the trial court is a possible view or not, there cannot be any definite proposition and each case has to be judged on its own merits, having regard to evidence on record.” (Para 12)

The court further observed:

The learned counsel for the State has submitted that as per the amended copy of the memo, the appellant has challenged only judgment/order dated 22.09.2020 and 29.09.2020 and there is no challenge to the earlier judgment of conviction dated 28.08.2020 and the order of sentence dated 15.09.2020, but at the same time it is to be noticed when the judgment is subsequently rendered on 22.09.2020 for the offence under Section 7 of the Act and further sentence is also imposed vide order dated 29.09.2020, the appellant had filed interlocutory application seeking amendment and the same was allowed by this Court. In that view of the matter, merely because in the amended memo the appellant has not mentioned about the judgment dated 28.08.2020 and the order dated 15.09.2020, same is no ground to reject the appeals on such technicality. Further the judgments relied by the learned counsel for the State also are of no assistance in support of his case to sustain the conviction recorded by the High Court. (Para 13)

Accordingly, the appeals were allowed and the impugned judgments were set aside. The appellant was ordered to be released forthwith from the custody, unless otherwise his custody is required in connection with any other case.

Risikesh Dhanaki



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