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Link to complete chain of circumstances necessary to prove motive beyond doubt: SC reiterates

Shivaji Chintappa Patil v. The State Of Maharashtra

Criminal Appeal No. 1348 Of 2013

Decided on 2nd March, 2021

Counsel for Appellant: Shri M. Qamaruddin

Counsel for Respondemt: Shri Sachin Patil

A three-judge bench comprising of Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Hrishikesh Roy have delivered the decision on this particular case. The Court allowed the appeal and the convictions given by the trial court and High court were set aside. The appellant was acquitted of all the charges and it was directed that he be released forthwith if not required in any other case.

The facts of the case state that the deceased Jayashree was married to the accused for about 8 to 9 years. It came to notice that the accused used to beat his wife to get money from her mother and that he was also addicted to liquor. It was on 24th March, 2003, when the accused’s brother called him to go to their farm and he informed him that his wife had committed suicide. There was a local FIR filed in Kokrud Police Station, Ad No. 13/2003. It was registered under Section 302 of IPC and subsequently, charges were framed against the accused. The accused was convicted by the learned trial judge for offence under Section 302 of IPC and sentenced him to Life Imprisonment. The appeal to the High Court was also dismissed and hence, it was applied to the Supreme Court of India under Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction.

The learned counsel for the Appellant contended that until and unless the prosecution proves its case beyond reasonable doubt, mere conviction should not be warranted in this circumstantial case. The case should not be decided on the basis of mere suspicion; hence conviction would not be sustainable. The counsel submitted that this case rests on circumstantial evidence, and the burden lies on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. He further submits that the prosecution is in no position to prove that the suicide was homicidal. The learned counsel contended that considering the facts of the case in hand, cause of death in the post mortem report was, ‘cardio respiratory arrest due to asphyxia due to hanging’ and that there was no sign of resistance which would show any symptoms of homicidal strangulation. The learned counsel placed reliance on a judgement in case of Eswarappa alias Doopada Eswarappa, (2019) 16 SCC 269.

The learned Counsel on behalf of the State submitted that there is no interference of the findings by the trial court and the High court in this case. The learned counsel placed reliance on the case, Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra, (1984) 4 SCC 116 in which the law with regard to conviction on basis of circumstantial has been crystallized.

The Court heard the Counsels for both parties and examined the facts of the case. It stated:

“So far as the circumstance that they had been living together is concerned, indisputably, the entirety of the situation should be taken into consideration. Ordinarily when the husband and wife remained within the four walls of a house and a death by homicide takes place it will be for the husband to explain the circumstances in which she might have died. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that although the same may be considered to be a strong circumstance but that by alone in the absence of any evidence of violence on the deceased cannot be held to be conclusive. It may be difficult to arrive at a conclusion that the husband and the husband alone was responsible therefore.” (Para 19)

The court also noted:

The High Court and the trial court have then relied on Section 8 of the Evidence Act about the conduct of the accused. It will be relevant to note, that PW-5-Ramchandra Chintappa who was the first informant, has stated in his evidence, that when he went to call the accused for going to the field for harvesting the crop of jawar, he informed him, that the deceased had committed suicide by hanging. Not only this, but on the basis of the report of the said witness, initially Ad No.13 of 2003 came to be registered. The evidence of this witness is also duly corroborated by the evidence of 12 PW-4 Ramchandra Shankar. Both these witnesses are prosecution witnesses. We find, that the High Court and the trial court have failed to take into consideration the evidence of these witnesses. (Para 25)

Referring to Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code through which claims were made by the prosecution, the court observed:

Insofar as the reliance placed by the learned counsel for the State on the judgment of Kashi Ram (supra) is concerned, it would reveal, that this Court had used the factor of non-explanation under Section 313 Cr.P.C. only as an additional link to fortify the finding, that the prosecution had established chain of events unquestionably leading to the guilt of the accused and not as a link to complete the chain. As such, the said judgment would not be applicable to the facts of the present case. (Para 31)

The Court held:

“In the present case, we are of the considered view that the prosecution has utterly failed to prove motive beyond doubt. As such, an important link to complete the chain of circumstances is totally absent in the present case.” (Para 30)

The Court allowed the appeal and the sentence passed by the trial court as affirmed by the High Court was set aside.

Yashwardhan Bansal