SUPREME COURT HOLDS THAT WRITTEN STATEMENT FILED BY AN ACCUSED IN A TRIAL MUST BE TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION BEFORE CONVICTING HIM
Recently, a two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Dipankar Datta passed a Judgment dated 03.03.2023 in Premchand vs The State of Maharashtra in Criminal Appeal no. 211 of 2023, and held that once a written statement is filed by an accused under Section 313 (5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C) (Power to examine the accused) and the Trial Court marks it as exhibit, such statement must be treated as part of the statement of the accused under Section 313 (1) read with Section 313 (4) Cr.P.C. and such statement should be taken into consideration before convicting the accused.
In the present case, one, Nandkishor Korde (‘the Victim’) was murdered on 26.09.2013 at around 5:00 pm by one, Premchand, the Appellant herein. The other three victims, namely Namdeo Korde, Vilas Charde, and Kunal Babhulkar received injuries caused by a knife. A report was lodged soon thereafter by the mother of the Victim, Rekhabai Korde, leading to registration of an F.I.R. under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) (Punishment for murder) and Section 307 IPC (Attempt to murder). In the Post-Mortem Report dated 27.09.2013, it was noted that the “stab injury to neck” of the Victim was the probable cause of death. Thereafter, upon registration of the F.I.R., the Police Inspector Bharat Thakre, took up the investigation, visited the spot of the incident and prepared a panchanama. He found the spot of the incident stained with blood and also recovered a blood-stained knife and other objects, after which the Police Inspector arrested the Appellant.
Upon completion of the investigation, a Charge Sheet under Sections 302 and 307, IPC was filed before the Ld. Court of Additional Sessions, Nagpur in Sessions Trial No. 72 / 2014 (Trial Court) against the Appellant. The Appellant pleaded not guilty and claimed to be tried. The Trial Court found that the Accused had murdered the Victim using a knife and he also attempted to commit murder of three other Prosecution Witnesses. The Ld. Trial Court held that the Prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and hence, convicted the Accused for murder of the Victim, vide Judgment dated 30.04.2016 and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
The aforesaid Judgment dated 30.04.2016 of the Trial Court was challenged before the Bombay High Court at Nagpur in Criminal Appeal No. 211 of 2016. The Division Bench was of the view that the Trial Court findings did not warrant any interference and that the Appeal was devoid of any merit. Hence, the High Court dismissed the Appeal, vide Judgment and Order dated 06.08.2019.
REASONING AND ANALYSIS
Aggrieved by the aforementioned Judgment dated 06.08.2019 of the Bombay High Court, the Appellant moved the Supreme Court under Article 132 of the Constitution of India (Criminal Appeal to the Supreme Court).
Referring to the Written Statement filed by the Appellant before the Ld. Trial Court in his defense under Section 313 Cr.P.C., the Apex Court observed that the Appellant used to go to Katol every 2-3 months to collect rent. During one of his visits to Katol, the Appellant was threatened by the Victim and attacked by three Prosecution Witnesses. The Appellant had to use the knife to save himself and as a result, the Victim and the Prosecution Witnesses sustained injuries and later, the Victim died.
However, in the present case, the Ld. Trial Court and the High Court failed to take into consideration the Written Statement filed by the Appellant under Section 313 Cr.P.C., thereby explaining the circumstances in which he acted in a manner that resulted in the death of the Victim. Therefore, the Supreme Court decided to interfere in the matter.
The Apex Court briefly summarized the settled principles under Section 313 Cr.P.C.:
“a. Section 313, Cr. P.C. [clause (b) of sub-section 1] is a valuable safeguard in the trial process for the Accused to establish his innocence;
- Section 313, which is intended to ensure a direct dialogue between the court and the Accused, casts a mandatory duty on the court to question the Accused generally on the case for the purpose of enabling him to personally explain any circumstances appearing in the evidence against him;
- When questioned, the Accused may not admit his involvement at all and choose to flatly deny or outrightly repudiate whatever is put to him by the court;
- The Accused may even admit or own incriminating circumstances adduced against him to adopt legally recognized defences;
- An Accused can make a statement without fear of being cross-examined by the prosecution or the latter having any right to cross-examine him;
- The explanations that an Accused may furnish cannot be considered in isolation but has to be considered in conjunction with the evidence adduced by the prosecution and, therefore, no conviction can be premised solely on the basis of the section 313 statement(s);
- Statements of the Accused in course of examination under section 313, since not on oath, do not constitute evidence under section 3 of the Evidence Act, yet, the answers given are relevant for finding the truth and examining the veracity of the prosecution case;
- Statement(s) of the Accused cannot be dissected to rely on the inculpatory part and ignore the exculpatory part and has/have to be read in the whole, inter alia, to test the authenticity of the exculpatory nature of admission; and
- If the Accused takes a defence and proffers any alternate version of events or interpretation, the court has to carefully analyze and consider his statements;
- Any failure to consider the Accused’s explanation of incriminating circumstances, in a given case, may vitiate the trial and/or endanger the conviction.”
The Apex Court further observed that the exercise under Section 313 of Cr.P.C should be realistic and should act as a means in securing the ends of justice, instead of an aimless effort and the means towards the end should be purposeful. Indeed, it is optional for the Accused to explain the circumstances put to him under section 313, but the safeguard provided by it and the valuable right that it envisions, if availed of or exercised, could prove decisive and have an effect on the final outcome, which would in effect promote utility of the exercise rather than its futility.
But in the present case, as the Written Statement filed by the Appellant under Section 313 Cr.P.C., thereby explaining the circumstances in which he had to act in his private defense, was not taken into consideration while convicting him for murder, therefore, the Supreme Court decided to interfere in the matter.
The Apex Court observed that if the Appellant had the intention to murder, he would not have attempted to do so with a weapon such as a knife; in broad daylight; and in the presence of Witnesses. Hence, the Supreme Court observed that the Accused was entitled to the benefit of Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC, which provides that culpable homicide does not amount to murder, if it is committed without premeditation in a sudden fight in the heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel and without the offender having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner. As a result, the Appellant’s conviction for murder and sentence of life imprisonment were set aside by the Apex Court.
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations, the Supreme Court observed that the Appellant’s case rightly fell under Section 304 -Part II of IPC (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and accordingly held him guilty for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
But considering that the Appellant had already undergone 9 years of imprisonment and he was in his late sixties, thus, the Appellant was directed to be released. As a result, the Apex Court allowed the Appeal to the said extent.
The Indian Lawyer