SUPREME COURT ACQUITS THE ACCUSED IN A 20-YEAR-OLD MURDER CASE DUE TO DOUBTS, IMPROBABILITIES, AND INCONSISTENCIES IN THE EVIDENCE.
A two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice B. R. Gavai and Justice P. S. Narasimha Judgment dated 05-01-2024 in the matter of Pradeep Kumar vs. State of Haryana, Criminal Appeal No. 1338 of 2010 and held that there is a significant difference between the accusation against the Appellant and the evidence presented by the Prosecution. Further, where circumstantial evidence is used, the facts must align with the possibility of the Accused’s guilt. However, in this particular case, the evidence presented gives rise to uncertainties, unlikelihoods, and contradictions.
i) That the aforesaid Appeal filed before the Apex Court by one, Pradeep Kumar (Appellant) against the State of Haryana (Respondent), challenged the Order dated 05.09.2009 of the Hon’ble High Court of Punjab and Haryana, Chandigarh (High Court), which dismissed the Criminal Appeal No. 805-DB 2007 and confirmed the Conviction and Imprisonment under Section 302 (Punishment for Murder) read with Section 34 (Act done by several persons in furtherance of common intention)of the Indian penal code, 1860 by Judgment dated 31.08.2007 of the Additional Sessions Judge, Kaithal in Sessions Case No. 43 of 2004 (Trial Court).
ii) The Prosecution alleged that the Assistant Sub-Inspector Balbir Singh (PW-21), was on duty with other Police Officials at Deyod Kheri Village, Jind-bypass road, Kaithal on 11.04.2004. On the same day, the Complainant, Sunil Kumar Bhura (PW-20), approached him and had his statement recorded. According to the Complainant, he is a resident of Nehru Garden Colony, Kaithal, and Shamsher Singh (hereinafter the Deceased), is his relative, being the son of his paternal aunt.
iii) The Complainant, engaged in real estate business and residing in Adarsh Nagar, Kaithal, narrated that on 10.04.2004 in the evening, he was in the office of the deceased with Balwant Singh (PW-18). The Deceased received two phone calls on his mobile around 9:15 PM and 9:30 PM, after which he informed both of them about his visit to Gole Market and left on his motorcycle. The Complainant and Balwant Singh also left the shop. The next morning, the Deceased’s wife informed the Complainant that Shamsher Singh had not returned home. Upon receiving this information, the Complainant and PW-18 initiated a search for the deceased.
iv) When the Complainant learned about a discovered dead body, he, along with PW-18 and Naresh (PW-13), went to the spot. They found the deceased with his throat knotted with cloth, a severely injured right eye, and head injuries. The Deceased’s motorcycle was parked nearby. While Naresh and PW-18 remained at the scene, the Complainant informed the Police, and his statement was recorded by the investigating officer (PW-21). Subsequently, PW-24 took over the investigation and recorded statements from witnesses.
v) During the investigation, statements from Rajesh (PW-11) and Jogi Ram (PW-12) were crucial. Rajesh reported that on 10.04.2004, he observed four individuals on a motorcycle with dandas near Karnal bypass, noting the registration number HR 08 E 4962. He later informed the Police about this observation on 13.04.2004. Jogi Ram, in his statement, mentioned seeing three young boys on a motorcycle holding dandas around 9:45-10 PM on Kaithal Road T-Point near Huda Road/Street on 10.04.2004.
vi) The Police also recorded the statement of Dilbag Singh (PW-16), who claimed to have seen the Deceased in the company of the Accused at the same spot. Further, on 17.04.2004, the Appellant (A-1) and Sumit Gupta (A-2) surrendered before the investigating officer through Ex-Sarpanch of village Geong, Balbir Singh (PW-10), who claimed that the Accused made an extrajudicial confession. Following their surrender, the Prosecution recorded disclosure statements of A-1 and A-2, made recoveries, and filed a charge sheet.
vii) Subsequently, one Anil and one Jaswinder were separated from this case after being declared juveniles, leaving only the Appellant and Sumit Gupta (A-2) to stand trial. The Prosecution presented 24 witnesses and marked exhibits, while the defense called three witnesses (DW 1, 2, and 3).
I) Based on above said facts, the Trial Court, recognized the lack of eyewitnesses, and based its decision on circumstantial evidence, focusing on PW-10 (Ex-Sarpanch Balbir Singh), PW-11 (Rajesh), and PW-12 (Jogi Ram), along with specific recoveries and the FSL Report.
II) The Court concluded that the chain of circumstances, supported by testimonies and scientific evidence, left no reasonable doubt about the guilt of Accused Sumit Gupta and Accused Pardeep Kumar. The Accused intentionally caused the death of Shamsher Singh on 10.04.2004, at about 10 PM in the area of Dhand Road Deokheri turning, in furtherance of their common intention, leading to an offense punishable under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC.
Aggrieved by the Order dated 31.08.2007 of the Trial Court, the Respondent filed Criminal Appeal No. 805-DB-2007 before the Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court, thereby challenging the High Court decision that confirmed the Trial Court Order dated 31.08.2007
In the Appeal by the Appellant and Accused No. 2, Sumit Gupta, the High Court placed reliance on the evidence of PW-11 and PW-12. Notably, the High Court appeared to accept the defense’s argument that the testimony of Ex-Sarpanch, PW-10, is unreliable. However, without delving into a detailed discussion of PW-10’s evidence, the High Court observed that the testimonies of PW-11 and PW-12 alone were adequate to affirm the conviction and sentence handed down by the Trial Court.
Aggrieved by the Order dated 05.04.2009 of the High Court, the Respondent filed Criminal Appeal No. 1338 of 2010 before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, thereby challenging the High Court Order that confirmed the Trial Court Order dated 31.08.2007.
A) The Court examined the reliability of key witnesses, particularly focusing on the testimonies of PW-10 (Ex-Sarpanch Balbir Singh), PW-11 (Rajesh), PW-12, and PW-16. Issues related to inconsistencies, contradictions, and improbabilities in their statements were considered.
B) The Court addressed the issue of an extra-judicial confession made on 17.04.2004, assessing its credibility in light of discrepancies, such as the Accused’s claim of being arrested on 11.04.2004.
C) The Court analyzed the circumstantial evidence presented by the Prosecution and evaluated whether it met the legal standards. Issues related to the reliability of the evidence, including the recovery of weapons and bloodstained clothing, were considered.
D) The Court scrutinized the timing of reporting incidents by witnesses, questioning the delay in reporting events to the Police, particularly in the case of PW-11 and PW-12.
E) The Court assessed the consistency of factual details provided by witnesses and highlighted discrepancies, especially regarding the registration number of the motorcycle and the sequence of events.
F) The Court examined the issue of the recovery of weapons, emphasizing the absence of a sharp-edged weapon despite the victim having suffered a cut wound.
G) The Court considered the Prosecution’s reliance on the alleged motive involving cheques and the significance of blood group evidence, questioning their relevance and reliability.
H) The Apex Court referred to legal principles governing circumstantial evidence and emphasized the need for a conclusive chain of evidence consistent with the guilt of the Accused.
1) The Supreme Court, after an independent examination of the evidence, found the testimony of PW-10 (Ex-Sarpanch Balbir Singh) to be unreliable. Several contradictions were highlighted, including discrepancies in his statements compared to those of other witnesses. Further, the Apex Court noted that the extra-judicial confession on 17.04.2004 contradicted the Accused’s statement that they were arrested on 11.04.2004.
2) Regarding PW-11 (Rajesh), the Court found him to be an unreliable witness due to discrepancies in his version of events and the improbability of certain details. The Bench highlighted the lack of clarity in PW-11’s account, such as the time taken to reach the crime scene, uncertainty about the details of his stay in Chandigarh, and the dubious circumstances under which he claimed to have recorded the registration number.
3) Further, concerning PW-12, the Court emphasized the improbability of his account of events, including multitasking while witnessing the incident and the delayed reporting of the incident to the Police two days later. The Court further criticized the reliance on the testimony of PW-16, noting the lack of corroboration and the witness’s failure to provide essential details about his journey.
4) Additionally, the Apex Court pointed out discrepancies in the recovery of weapons and bloodstained clothing, emphasizing that no sharp-edged weapon was recovered despite the deceased suffering an incision.
5) Ultimately, the Supreme Court concluded that the Prosecution had failed to establish the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The circumstantial evidence presented gave rise to doubts, improbabilities, and inconsistencies, leading the Court to acquit the Appellant, setting aside the judgments of both the High Court and the Trial Court.
Based on the aforementioned facts, the Supreme Court found significant inconsistencies and unreliable witnesses in the case against the Appellant. The Supreme Court has concluded that there were significant inconsistencies and improbabilities in the evidence presented against the Appellant in the case. Key witnesses, such as PW-10, PW-11, PW-12, and PW-16, were found to be unreliable due to contradictions and doubtful circumstances. The Court also noted discrepancies in the recovery of weapons and bloodstained clothing, as there was no sharp-edged weapon found despite the victim suffering an incised wound.
Hence, the Prosecution failed to meet the burden of proof, and the Court acquitted the Appellant of all charges under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Court allowed the criminal appeal and discharged the Appellant’s bail bonds while directing the parties to bear their own costs.
In India, though the institution of criminal cases is very high the conviction rate is very low. In fact, as per data maintained by the National Crime Record Bureau, the conviction rate of States/UTs relating to cognizable crime under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Special & Local Laws (SLL) crimes during 2018, 2019 and 2020 is 66.6, 66.4 and 73.4 respectively. This is probably because at the time of investigation the Police do not take the necessary steps to ensure that the evidence is collected properly. It is also possible that the Police do this knowingly. Hence, due to improper evidence, many accused go off scot-free as the Indian Law insists that the accused must be proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.
The Indian Lawyer
Sushila Ram Varma
The Indian Lawyer