The Supreme Court ruled that the suspicion, howsoever strong, cannot be a substitute for proof of the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.
The accused appellant has been held guilty of the offence punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The trial court sentenced the accused appellant to death under Section 302 of the IPC and to pay a fine of Rs. 20,000/- and in default of payment of fine to undergo further rigorous imprisonment for one year. While the Sessions Judge, Lakhimpur Kheri made a reference to the High Court for confirmation of the death sentence under Section 366 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the accused appellant preferred Criminal Appeal putting in issue his conviction and sentence. The High Court dismissed the Criminal Appeal filed by the accused appellant thereby confirming the death reference under Section 366 of the CrPC.
Senior Advocate S. Niranjan Reddy, appearing for the accused appellant, submitted that in the course of the trial the prosecution failed to lead any credible evidence to connect the accused appellant with the alleged crime.
He contended that in a case which is based on circumstantial evidence, motive plays an important role.
He submitted that the prosecution has not been able to prove the motive behind the crime.
Advocate Adarsh Upadhyay, appearing for the respondent State of Uttar Pradesh, submitted that there is no good reason to even disbelieve the discovery of the weapon of offence at the instance of the accused appellant.
He contended that over and above the two incriminating circumstances in the form of extra judicial confession and the discovery of weapon of offence, there was a strong motive for the accused appellant to commit the crime.
The three judges bench of The Chief Justice of India Uday Umesh Lalit, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice J.B. Pardiwala observed that 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.
The bench said that if, it is say of the investigating officer that the accused appellant while in custody on his own free will and volition made a statement that he would lead to the place where he had hidden the weapon of offence along with his blood stained clothes then the first thing that the investigating officer should have done was to call for two independent witnesses at the police station itself.
It was further added that when the accused while in custody makes such statement before the two independent witnesses (panch witnesses) the exact statement or rather the exact words uttered by the accused should be incorporated in the first part of the panchnama that the investigating officer may draw in accordance with law.
“This first part of the panchnama for the purpose of Section 27 of the Evidence Act is always drawn at the police station in the presence of the independent witnesses so as to lend credence that a particular statement was made by the accused expressing his willingness on his own free will and volition to point out the place where the weapon of offence or any other article used in the commission of the offence had been hidden” the court added.
The bench noted that the entire oral evidence is deficient in all the aforesaid relevant aspects of the matter.
The court stated that the investigating officer in his deposition is obliged in law to prove the contents of the panchnama and it is only if the investigating officer has successfully proved the contents of the discovery panchnama in accordance with law, then in that case the prosecution may be justified in relying upon such evidence and the trial court may also accept the evidence.
It was observed that if there are serious injuries or grievous injuries found on the body of the accused then the prosecution owes a duty to explain such injuries and the failure on the part of the prosecution to explain may point towards the innocence of the accused.
The court held that none of the pieces of evidence relied on as incriminating by the courts below, can be treated as incriminating pieces of circumstantial evidence against the accused.
“Any defence counsel with a reasonable standing at the Bar is expected to know that crossexamination is not the only method of discrediting a witness. If the oral testimony of certain witnesses is contrary to the proved facts and if their testimony is on the face of it unacceptable, their evidence might well be discarded on that ground alone” the bench observed.
The bench set aside the conviction of the accused appellant under Section 302 of the IPC.
Case title: Ramanand @ Nandlal Bharti v/s State of Uttar Pradesh
Citation: CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS. 6465 OF 2022