SUPREME COURT EMPHASIZED THAT PROVING GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT IS A CENTRAL PRINCIPLE IN LEGAL ANALYSIS.
A two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal passed a Judgment dated 13-10-2023 in the matter of Mohd. Rijwan Vs. State of Haryana, Criminal Appeal No. 2350 / 2011 observed the importance of test identification parades and underscored the fundamental requirement of establishing a coherent and unbroken chain of circumstances in criminal trials.
i) That the aforesaid Appeal was filed before the Apex Court by one, Mohd. Rijwan (Appellant) against the State of Haryana (Respondent), who challenged the decision of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh (High Court), which confirmed the sentence of the Sessions Court (Trial Court) on the ground that the evidence presented by the Prosecution was sufficient to establish the guilt of the Appellant beyond a reasonable doubt.
ii) That the Complainant, Chander Bhushan (PW-10), who is the brother of Vidya Sagar alias Bhushan (now Deceased), reported that the Deceased had gone to the factory on his motorcycle at around 2:00 p.m. on 17.02.2004 but did not return. Consequently, on 22.02.2004, the Complainant filed a missing complaint.
iii) According to the Prosecution’s Case, on 17.02.2004, the Deceased and the Appellant consumed liquor. Thereafter, the Appellant accompanied the Deceased on his motorcycle, with the Appellant as the driver and the Deceased as the pillion rider. Thereafter, the motorcycle was involved in a minor accident in which Pyare Lal (PW-6) suffered a minor injury. Upon PW-6’s cry for help, Hari Chand Sharma and others arrived at the scene and reconciled the matter with the Appellant. As a result, the Appellant paid Rs. 50 to PW-6 for purchasing medicines, thus establishing the theory of “last seen together.”
iv) The Prosecution further claimed that after consuming liquor, an altercation ensued between the Deceased and the Appellant’s three companions, leading to an assault on the Deceased’s head by the Appellant and two others, resulting in his death. Subsequently, the three individuals buried the Deceased’s body after digging a grave by the side of a hand pump. The Prosecution asserted that a memorandum of disclosure made by the Appellant led to the exhumation of the Deceased’s body.
v) However, upon reviewing the evidence of PW-6 and PW-9 (Radhey Shyam), who were the main witnesses, significant doubts emerged. PW-6 admitted that he did not know the Appellant before the incident and could only recognize him by appearance before 09.04.2004. Additionally, he acknowledged that no test identification parade was conducted, and he was shown the Appellant in the office of the Superintendent of Police on 09.04.2004.
vi) Subsequently, the testimony of PW-9 was crucial, as he claimed that the Appellant was at the site where he worked from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on 17.02.2004, contradicting the timing of the alleged incident. Hari Chand Sharma, another important witness, who was present according to PW-6 when the Appellant and the Deceased were last seen together, was not examined by the Prosecution, and no explanation was provided for his absence.
TRIAL COURT FINDINGS:
(a) The Ld. Trial Court found the Appellant, Mohd. Rijwan, guilty of the offences punishable under Sections 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) (murder) and 201 IPC (causing disappearance of evidence of the offence) read with Section 34 IPC (acts done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention). As a result, the Appellant was sentenced to undergo life imprisonment for the offence under Section 302 IPC and rigorous imprisonment for three years for offence under Section 201 IPC.
(b) Further, the Prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence, with one of the key circumstances being the theory of “last seen together.” The Ld. Trial Court accepted the Prosecution’s contention that the Appellant and the Deceased were last seen together on a motorcycle, and this formed an important part of the Prosecution’s case.
(c) Subsequently, the Ld. Trial Court also accepted the Prosecution’s version of events, which stated that after consuming liquor, an altercation occurred between the Deceased and the Appellant’s three companions. This altercation led to an assault on the Deceased, resulting in his death. The Prosecution further alleged that the Appellant and two others buried the Deceased’s body after digging a grave by the side of a hand pump.
(d) The Ld. Trial Court found that a memorandum of disclosure made by the Appellant had led to the exposure of the Deceased’s body, which was buried by the Appellant and his companions.
HIGH COURT FINDINGS:
Aggrieved by the Order passed by the Ld. Trial Court, the Respondent filed a Criminal Appeal No. 833 / 2006 before the Hon’ble High Court of Punjab and Haryana, (Chandigarh). The Hon’ble High Court vide Order dated 13.11.2009 made the following observations:
A) That the High Court confirmed the conviction of the Appellant, Mohd. Rijwan, for the offences punishable under Sections 302 IPC and 201 IPC read with Section 34 IPC.
B) Further, the High Court’s decision indicates that it endorsed the Prosecution’s version of events and the chain of circumstances presented in the Trial Court, which likely includes accepting the theory of “last seen together” and the details surrounding the alleged assault and burial of the Deceased.
C) The High Court, in its judgment, found that the evidence presented by the Prosecution was sufficient to establish the guilt of the Appellant beyond a reasonable doubt, as this is a fundamental requirement for confirming a conviction.
SUPREME COURT OBSERVATIONS:
Aggrieved by the Order dated 13.11.2009 passed by the Hon’ble High Court, the Appellant filed a Criminal Appeal No. 2350 / 2011 before the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 12.08.2011. The Apex Court, in its observations, addressed the crucial issues which are as follows:
1) The Supreme Court noted that the Prosecution’s case relied heavily on circumstantial evidence, with one of the primary circumstances being the theory of “last seen together.” However, the Court raised doubts about this theory, primarily due to inconsistencies and contradictions in the evidence presented. This included the timing of the alleged incident and the fact that the Appellant was seen at another location around the same time.
2) Further, the Apex Court pointed out that a test identification parade, a standard procedure to ascertain the accuracy of eyewitness identification, was not conducted in this case. Instead, the eyewitness was shown the Appellant in the office of the Superintendent of Police, a procedure not recognized by law.
3) Thereafter, the Bench noted that Hari Chand Sharma, an important witness who was present according to another eyewitness (PW-6) when the Appellant and the Deceased were last seen together, had not been examined by the Prosecution. The Court found this omission significant and indicated that the Prosecution had not provided an explanation for failing to examine this crucial witness.
4) Subsequently, the Supreme Court concluded that the Prosecution had failed to establish the chain of circumstances necessary to prove the Appellant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The doubts raised regarding the “last seen together” theory, the lack of a test identification parade, and the non-examination of an essential witness collectively weakened the Prosecution’s case.
Based on the aforementioned observations, the Apex Court found significant doubts and inconsistencies in the Prosecution’s case against the Appellant. The key issues included doubts about the “last seen together” theory due to discrepancies in the timing of events and the lack of a test identification parade. The non-examination of an important witness further weakened the case. Hence, the Bench concluded that the Prosecution had failed to establish a complete chain of circumstances, casting doubt on the Appellant’s guilt. Consequently, this case highlights the importance of a rigorous legal process and the principle of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
As a result, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court Order dated 13.11.2009 and allowed the Appeal, leading to the Appellant’s acquittal against the alleged offences. As a a result, The bail bonds of the Appellant were cancelled.
The Indian Lawyer