Conduct of Accused alone, though may be Relevant under Section 8 of the Evidence Act, Cannot form basis of conviction: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court ruled that the conduct of the accused alone, though may be relevant under Section 8 of the Evidence Act, cannot form the basis of conviction.

Background 

The statutory criminal appeal is at the instance of a convict accused charged with the offence of murder of one Kamalamma (deceased) and is directed against the judgment and order of conviction passed by the High Court of Karnataka in the Criminal Appeal by which the High Court allowed the acquittal appeal filed by the State of Karnataka against the judgment and order of acquittal passed by the Principal Sessions Judge held the appellant herein guilty of the offence of murder punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

The High Court sentenced the appellant herein to undergo life imprisonment with fine of Rs. 25,000/­ and in the event of default of payment of fine to undergo further simple imprisonment for a period of six months.

Arguments 

Advocate Krishna Pal Singh, appearing for the appellant convict, submitted that the High Court committed a serious error in passing the impugned judgment and order of conviction by reversing the well­ reasoned judgment and order of acquittal passed by the trial court. 

He contended that while sitting in judgment over an acquittal, the appellate court is first required to seek an answer to the question whether the findings of the trial court are palpably wrong, manifestly erroneous or demonstrably unsustainable.

Advocate V. N. Raghupathy, appearing for the State of Karnataka, submitted that the circumstances are fully established pointing only towards the guilt of the appellant convict.

Decision 

The division bench of The Chief Justice of India Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice J.B. Pardiwala said that the High Court should have been mindful of the fact that it was dealing with an acquittal appeal filed by the State under Section 378 of the Cr.PC. 

It was observed that ordinarily, the Court is cautious in interfering with an order of acquittal, especially when the order of acquittal has been confirmed up to the High Court. It is only in rarest of rare cases, where the High Court, on an absolutely wrong process of reasoning and a legally erroneous and perverse approach to the facts of the case, ignoring some of the most vital facts, has acquitted the accused, that the same may be reversed by the Court, exercising jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution

The bench said that such fetters on the right to entertain an appeal are prompted by the reluctance to expose a person, who has been acquitted by a competent court of a criminal charge, to the anxiety and tension of a further examination of the case, even though it is held by a superior court.

The court did not find any satisfaction recorded therein that the findings of the trial court are palpably wrong, manifestly erroneous or demonstrably unsustainable. 

In the absence of such satisfaction, the High Court, in the opinion of the court, should not have disturbed a well reasoned judgment of acquittal, passed by the trial court. 

It was added that in a case of circumstantial evidence, the judgment remains essentially inferential. The inference is drawn from the established facts as the circumstances lead to particular inferences. The Court has to draw an inference with respect to whether the chain of circumstances is complete, and when the circumstances therein are collectively considered, the same must lead only to the irresistible conclusion that the accused alone is the perpetrator of the crime in question. All the circumstances so established must be of a conclusive nature, and consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused.

The court viewed that the plain reading of the examination ­in ­chief itself is sufficient to arrive at the conclusion that the extra judicial confession could not have been relied upon as an incriminating circumstance. 

It failed to understand why all of a sudden Seetharam, after a period of almost four months, thought fit to make an extra judicial confession before the H.T. Yogesh involving himself and the appellant in the alleged crime.

An extra judicial confession, if voluntary and true and made in a fit state of mind, can be relied upon by the Court. The confession will have to be proved like any other fact. 

The value of the evidence as to the confession depends on the reliability of the witness who gives the evidence. It is not open to any court to start with a presumption that extra judicial confession is a weak type of evidence. 

It would depend on the nature of the circumstances, the time when the confession was made and the credibility of the witnesses who speak to such a confession. Such a confession can be relied upon and conviction can be founded thereon if the evidence about the confession comes from the mouth of witnesses who appear to be unbiased, not even remotely inimical to the accused, and in respect of whom nothing is brought out which may tend to indicate that he may have a motive for attributing an untruthful statement to the accused, the words spoken to by the witness are clear, unambiguous and unmistakably convey that the accused is the perpetrator of the crime and nothing is omitted by the witness which may militate against it. After subjecting the evidence of the witness to a rigorous test on the touchstone of credibility, the extra judicial confession can be accepted and can be the basis of a conviction if it passes the test of credibility” the bench observed. 

The bench further stated that although the conduct of an accused may be a relevant fact under Section 8 of the Evidence Act, yet the same, by itself, cannot be a ground to convict him or hold him guilty and that too, for a serious offence like murder. 

It was said by the court that like any other piece of evidence, the conduct of an accused is also one of the circumstances which the court may take into consideration along with the other evidence on record, direct or indirect.

The court concluded that the evidence of discovery of the weapon, clothes and dead body of the deceased at the instance of the appellant convict can hardly be treated as legal evidence, more particularly, considering the various legal infirmities in the same.

The court set aside the impugned judgment and order of conviction passed by the High Court.

Case title: Subramanya v/s State of Karnataka 

Citation: Criminal appeal no. 242 of 2022 

Click here to read the Order/Judgment 

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