SUPREME COURT HOLDS DISCLOSURE STATEMENTS OF CO-ACCUSED INADEQUATE TO ORDER CONVICTION OF ACCUSED-APPELLANTS
In the matter of Manoj Kumar Soni Vs The State Of Madhya Pradesh, Criminal Appeal No.1030/2023 and Kallu @ Habib Vs The State Of Madhya Pradesh, Criminal Appeal No.1458/2023, a two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Dipankar Datta passed a Judgment dated 11-08-2023 and made observations regarding whether disclosure statements per se, unaccompanied by any supporting evidence, are adequate to order a conviction.
1) In the present case, the Complainant, Ms. Geeta Pateriya was watching TV at her home on 14-04-2010 around 1.30 pm, when 3-4 people forcibly entered her house armed with country made pistol and tied up the Complainant and her servant, Vinod’s hands and legs and threatened to kill them. They took the locker keys, committed robbery of silver and gold ornaments and cash, etc and then fled away around 2.30 pm.
2) The Complainant filed a Complaint with the Police, based on which an FIR was registered in Crime No. 93 / 2010 against the Accused, namely, Arif, Kallu @ Habib, Jaihind and Suleman, for the offences punishable under Sections 450 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) (House-trespass in order to commit offence punishable with imprisonment for life), 394 IPC (Voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery), 397 IPC (Robbery, or dacoity, with attempt to cause death or grievous hurt) and Section 25(1-B) of the Arms Act 1959 (Punishment for certain offences).
3) Upon investigation, the Police arrested the Accused persons and the Appellant-Accused- Manoj Kumar Soni, who allegedly purchased the stolen articles, despite being aware that the co-Accused had sold him stolen goods.
4) Thereafter, the stolen articles were recovered by the Police on 09-05-2010 and 21-05-2010.
5) Further, upon investigation, the Police discovered that the Complainant’s former driver, Kallu @ Habib allegedly shared information with the other co-Accused that there were valuable items and substantial amount of money in the Complainant’s house and that the Complainant lived alone. Hence, the Accused persons planned and executed robbery at her residence.
6) Upon completion of investigation, the Police filed a Chargesheet before the Ld. Additional Sessions Judge, Nowgaon, District Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh (Trial Court) against the Accused persons including the Appellants- Manoj Kumar Soni and Kallu @ Habib under various provisions of IPC and Arms Act.
7) The Complainant identified 3 Accused persons, Arif, Jaihind and Suleman, but the 4th Accused- Kallu @ Habib remained unidentified, as Kallu was allegedly only involved in hatching the conspiracy and Manoj Kumar Soni had allegedly purchased the stolen articles, hence, both were not present at the crime scene.
8) The Trial Court, vide Order dated 28-11-2019, convicted all 5 Accused persons as follows:
8.1) The Accused-Manoj Kumar Soni was convicted for offence punishable under Section 411 IPC (Dishonestly receiving stolen property) and was sentenced to 3 years of rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 5,000/- and a default sentence of 3 months.
a) His conviction was based on (i) the Seizure Memo, which was prepared by the Police upon recovery of stolen articles belonging to the Complainant from the Accused-Manoj Kumar Soni and (ii) the Identification Memo, in which the Complainant accurately identified the stolen articles. Further, the Accused failed to provide any reasonable explanation regarding his possession of stolen goods.
b) Hence, the Trial Court made a legal presumption against the Accused-Manoj Kumar Soni, in terms of Section 114 of the Evidence Act 1881 (Court may presume existence of certain facts), which provides in one of its Illustrations that “The Court may presume (a) that a man who is in possession of stolen goods soon, after the theft is either the thief or has received the goods knowing them to be stolen, unless he can account for his possession”.
8.2) The Accused- Kallu was convicted for offence punishable under Section 120-B of IPC (Punishment of criminal conspiracy) and was sentenced to undergo 10 years of rigorous imprisonment with fine of Rs. 5,000/- and default sentence of 3 months.
a) His conviction was based on (i) the disclosure statement of the co-Accused Jaihind who admitted having given Rs. 3000/- from the stolen money to Kallu, and (ii) the disclosure statement of Kallu, who admitted to having taken Rs. 3000/-, which was seized by the Police from Kallu’s cupboard.
b) Hence, the Trial Court convicted the Accused-Kallu for conspiring with the co-Accused.
8.3) The Accused- Jaihind, Arif and Suleman were also convicted under various provisions of IPC and Arms Act.
9) Aggrieved by the Trial Court Order dated 28-11-2019, the Appellants-Accused approached the Hon’ble High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Bench at Jabalpur, in the following matters, under Section 374(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (CrPC) (Appeals from convictions):
a) Accused-Arif filed Criminal Appeal No. 10402 of 2019
b) Accused-Manoj Kumar Soni filed Criminal Appeal No. 10474 of 2019
c) Accused-Kallu @ Habib filed Criminal Appeal No. 10549 of 2019
d) Accused-Jaihind filed Criminal Appeal No. 10550 of 2019
e) Accused-Suleman filed Criminal Appeal No. 10844 of 2019
10) But the said Appeals were dismissed by the High Court, vide Order dated 12-10-2022.
Supreme Court Observations
Aggrieved by the High Court Order dated 12-10-2022, the 5 Appellants-Accused filed various Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. However, the SLPs filed by Accused- Jaihind, Arif and Suleman were dismissed and notices were issued only in the SLPs filed by the Accused- Manoj Kumar Soni and Kallu @ Habib (Appellants), vide Orders dated 06-04-2023 and 11-04-2023 respectively. The SLPs filed by the Appellants-Accused were numbered as Criminal Appeal No.1030/2023 and Criminal Appeal No.1458/2023 respectively.
The Apex Court passed an Order dated 11-08-2023 and made the following observations:
(i) That the conviction of both the Appellants-Accused was primarily based on the disclosure statements of the co-Accused- Suleman and Jaihind, who admitted to (a) having sold the stolen articles to Appellant-Manoj Kumar Soni, which led to the recovery of stolen articles from the Appellant’s possession and (b) having given Rs. 3000/- from the stolen money to the Appellant-Kallu, which led to seizure of such amount from Kallu’s cupboard.
(ii) However, the Courts in general have been reluctant to convict a person solely based on the disclosure statement of one accused against a co-accused, as a disclosure statement unaccompanied by any supporting evidence is not deemed to be strong and sufficient piece of evidence in itself, so as to establish the charges beyond reasonable doubt.
(iii) That in terms of Section 27 of the Evidence Act, the information provided by an accused in his disclosure statement must be proved to be directly relevant to the discovered fact, including details about the physical object, its place of origin, and the accused person’s awareness of these aspects.
(iv) That in the present case, apart from the disclosure statements of the co-Accused- Suleman and Jaihind, there is no other evidence which supposedly led the Police to recover the stolen articles and cash from the Appellants-Accused.
(v) Further, various Prosecution Witnesses, who were allegedly present at the time when the stolen articles were being seized / recovered from the Appellants’-Accused place, eventually turned hostile during the trial. They deposed that they were made to sign the Seizure Memo at the insistence of the Police. Hence, the Seizure Memo lost its credibility and the seizure of stolen property stood falsified. Thus, the Bench rejected the recoveries made by the Police under Section 27 of the Evidence Act.
(vi) Furthermore, the Trial Court failed to put forth any question to the Accused-Manoj Kumar Soni under Section 313 CrPC (Power to examine the accused) regarding the stolen articles and the Prosecution failed to prove that the Accused-Manoj had retained the articles with dishonest intent / knowledge / belief that they were stolen property. Rather the Trial Court simply drew a legal presumption in isolation against the Accused-Manoj, in terms of Section 114 of the Evidence Act, without considering other evidence. “Manoj’s conviction, solely relying on the disclosure statements made by himself and the other co-accused, does not suffice to warrant a presumption under Section 411, IPC”. Thus, such presumption stood vitiated.
(vii) That in so far as the recovery of Rs. 3000/- made from the Appellant-Kallu’s house, the Police deposed that they recovered Rs. 1000 notes from Kallu’s cupboard, whereas, the Complainant deposed that Rs. 1000/- notes were not stolen from her place. Further, no witnesses, if any present at the time of seizure of Rs. 3000/- from Kallu’s place, were testified against the Appellant-Kallu.
(viii) Furthermore, the Trial Court, amongst all 5 Accused persons, convicted only the Accused-Kallu for criminal conspiracy, which cannot hold good, as one cannot conspire with oneself and Section 120-A of IPC (Definition of criminal conspiracy) makes it amply clear that “the offence of criminal conspiracy is committed only when two or more persons agree to do or cause to be done an illegal act or legal act by illegal means.” The Prosecution also failed to prove that any agreement existed between Kallu and the co-Accused regarding criminal conspiracy. Therefore, the conviction of the Appellant-Kallu also stood vitiated.
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations, the Supreme Court held that the quality of evidence led by the Prosecution against the Appellants-Accused was very weak and wholly untrustworthy for convicting them. Hence, the Trial Court and the High Court erred in not acquitting the Appellants. Hence, the Appeals filed by the Accused- Manoj Kumar Soni and Kallu @ Habib were allowed and the Trial Court Order dated 28-11-2019 and the High Court Order dated 12-10-2022 were set aside. Accordingly, the Appellants were acquitted and were directed to be immediately released from custody.
The Indian Lawyer
 Section 27 of the Evidence Act 1881: How much of information received from accused may be proved:
Provided that, when any fact is deposed to as discovered inconsequence of information received from a person accused of any offence, in the custody of a police-officer, so much of such information, whether it amounts to a confession or not, as relates distinctly to the fact thereby discovered, may be proved