The Supreme Court ruled that once the prosecution had successfully established the chain of events, the burden was on the appellants to prove it otherwise.
The Appellants, namely Sabitri Samantaray and Bidyadhar Praharaj are wife and husband respectively. The two have been arrayed as accused. The Appellants along with their daughter had been charged with offences under Sections 302, 201 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Sessions Court Jaipur, convicted accused for offences under Sections 302, 201 read with Section 34 IPC, whereby both the appellants were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life and a fine of Rs. 10,000/- and further sentence of six months in case of default in payment of fine. Their daughter i.e. Accused was convicted under Sections 302, 109 read with Section 34 IPC and was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life and a fine of Rs. 10,000/-, and further sentence of six months in case of default in payment of fine. Subsequently, the High Court vide order impugned acquitted the daughter of the appellants of all charges, but upheld the conviction of the Appellants. The conviction of the appellants under Section 302 IPC, however, was modified to conviction under Section 304 (II) IPC and, therefore, sentence term was reduced to rigorous imprisonment for a term of five years and a fine of Rs. 10,000/-, and an additional six months of rigorous imprisonment in case of default.
The Appellants contended that reliance placed on Section 106 of the Evidence Act is misconstrued, in absence of clear evidence pointing to the guilt of the appellants accused. The prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, and has therefore failed to discharge its burden of proof.
Respondent contended, that the High Court relying upon admitted facts, creditworthy evidence, relationship between the parties, more specifically relationship between the deceased and daughter of the appellants, their telephonic contacts, exchange of money between the deceased and appellant’s daughter, date, place and time of murder of the deceased, and the presence of accused appellants inside the tenanted portion of the house, has rightly observed that the incident did occur at the time and place alleged by the prosecution wherein appellants were definitely involved.
The three judges bench of Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Hima Kohli observed that the claim of the first set of witnesses failed to lay down a complete narration of the events.
The court noted that the prosecution had thus succeeded in establishing the intention of the appellants for the commission of the offence. Such an intention, when analyzed in the light of the statements made by all the sets of witnesses, and fatal injuries sustained by the deceased at the relevant place and time, certainly makes out a strong case that death of the deceased was indeed caused by the appellants. Therefore, once the prosecution had successfully established the chain of events, the burden was on the appellants to prove it otherwise.
The court held that the High Court rightly observed that in light of Section 106 of the Evidence Act, the onus was now on the appellants to disclose how the deceased lost his life.
The court stated that the initial burden of proof is on the prosecution to bring sufficient evidence pointing towards guilt of the accused. However, in case of last seen together, the prosecution is exempted to prove exact happening of the incident as the accused himself would have special knowledge of the incident and thus, would have burden of proof as per Section 106 of the Evidence Act. Therefore, last seen together itself is not a conclusive proof but along with other circumstances surrounding the incident, like relations between the accused and the deceased, enmity between them, previous history of hostility, recovery of weapon from the accused, etc. non- explanation of death of the deceased, may lead to a presumption of guilt.
The court said that the entire sequence of events strongly point towards the guilt of the accused appellants, and that the appellants have failed to offer any credible defense in this regard. The entire chain of events point towards the guilt of the appellants.
Thus, the court did not find any error in the impugned judgment passed by the High Court.
Case title: Sabitri Samantaray v/s State of Odisha
Citation: Criminal appeal no. 988 of 2017