Criminal Appeal (DB) No. 499 of 2019
Date Of Decision:
Justice Ashwani Kumar Singh and Justice Arvind Srivastava
Parties to the Case:
Appellant: Salamu Nesha @ Salamun Nesa.
Respondent: The State of Bihar
Validity of conviction solely on circumstantial evidence.
Can an order of conviction be upheld if it is based solely on circumstantial evidence and pre-conceived notions?
- Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: It relates to the action of cruelty done by a husband upon his wife, with the cruelty being both physical as well as mental.
- Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: It contains punishment for the offence of murder. Under this Section, if a person is found to be guilty of the offence of murder as laid out under Section 300 IPC, he/she can be punished with a maximum punishment of the death penalty.
- Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: This provision is related to the offence of dowry death. Under this, if a woman is killed by her husband and in-laws for dowry, they can be punished with imprisonment.
- Section 366 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973: Under this provision, if a Sessions Court gives a death penalty to an accused, the order of death penalty would be submitted to the High Court for confirmation, and the order cannot be put into action if the High Court does not confirm it.
- This order was passed by the Patna High Court after clubbing three appeals arising out of a common judgment of the Sessions Court.
- In this case, the appellants i.e., the husband and sister-in-law of a deceased lady were charged with the offence of murder, dowry death, cruelty, tampering with evidence under a common intention, etc.
- It was alleged by the family of the deceased lady that her in-laws pressurized her for dowry on a regular basis and that when the demands were not met, they killed her by mixing poison in her food. It was also alleged that the accused-appellants disposed of her body with an intention to leave no trace of the crime.
- The matter reached the Sessions Court of Gopalganj which punished the accused of the above-mentioned offences, while giving the death penalty to the husband of the deceased lady.
- The order of death penalty passed by the Sessions Court was sent to the High Court to seek its confirmation.
JUDGMENT OF THE HIGH COURT
- While going through the arguments of the parties and the evidence presented, it was observed by the HC that the conviction was based mostly on circumstantial evidence.
- According to the Bench, the prosecution could not prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, which is required in case of an accusation of homicide. The prosecution also couldn’t clearly establish that the deceased was subjected to cruelty by the accused persons.
- The Bench also considered the view of the amicus curiae who said that the Trial Court did not consider the treatment that the deceased got after the mishap and that even the prosecution did not bring it to the notice of the Court.
- On the basis of the above observations, the High Court concluded that the judgment of the Trial Court was based more on passion rather than facts and that it was mostly circumstantial. Therefore, the High Court set aside the order of the Trial Court and ordered that the accused-appellants be set free unless there was any other case in which their conviction was required.
- While making the judgment, the Bench also observed that the judgment of the trial court was a classic example of what a judgment should not be like and that the judgment should be based on solid reasons rather than passionate contentions.
In conclusion, it can be said that an order of conviction and death penalty should be given after properly establishing the guilt of the accused and not merely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. The High Court was correct in setting aside the order of the Trial Court as it was based mainly on circumstantial evidence and not any concrete arguments.
The Trial Court had monstrously erred in framing the charges and punishing the accused, considering that it punished the accused under Sections in which they weren’t even charged. Further, the court punished the accused without establishing their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and without appreciating the actual evidence.
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