Acquittal of the Accused before Defence Evidence

Acquittal before defence evidence in sessions trial is something very rarely happens in Indian courts but there is a legal provision in the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC), for the purpose. It is a mechanism incorporated in the law to end the criminal proceedings against the person accused of criminal offence unnecessarily, at an early opportunity in the trial process.

Prosecution starts the sessions trial

In Sessions trial, after opening of the prosecution case under Section 226 of the CrPC and the production of both oral and documentary evidence for prosecution under Section 231 of the CrPC, the prosecution concludes its evidence.

After it closes its evidence, the prosecution has normally no right to call further evidence. But if the court comes to the conclusion that it is absolutely necessary to call the witness to arrive at a just decision in the case, the court can allow further evidence under Section 311 of the CrPC.

Examination of the accused

After conclusion of the prosecution evidence and before proceeding to the defence evidence, the accused would be examined with questions generally on the case, under Section 313 CrPC.

The purpose of this examination is to enable him to explain any circumstances appearing in the evidence against him. This examination is done not on oath and the answers he gives would not be used to convict him.

The judge has unfettered power to put any question to the accused as he considers necessary without any previous warning.

Acquittal under 232 when no evidence

The prosecution and defence can, under Section 232 CrPC, argue for and against the charge proposed in the case.

On hearing the prosecution and the defence, if the judge considers that there is no evidence that the accused committed the offence, then the judge is bound to issue an order of acquittal rather than framing the charge.

The purpose of the argument under this section is to expedite conclusion of the trial, avoid unnecessary harassment of the accused and waste of public time when there is “no evidence” at all on the prosecution side. The Section 232 CrPC confers a very important statutory right upon the accused enabling him to take his chance of acquittal.

The defendant is under no duty to disclose the names of his defence witnesses till the court considers the acquittal (or non-acquittal) under Section 232 CrPC. If the accused is not acquitted under Section 232 CrPC, then the accused will be called onto enter into his defence under Section 233 CrPC.

When the judge comes to the conclusion that there is “no evidence” and acquits the accused, he has to apply his mind and give reasons of acquittal in the order. The order of acquittal is appealable. In case of non-acquittal of the accused, the judge should issue an order indicating that it was not a case of “no evidence” but a case fit for the accused to enter on his defense.

Written statement can be filed during defence

After giving statements under Section 313 CrPC by the accused no written statement concerning it can be filed.

But it is possible for an accused to file a written statement under Section 233(2) once he enters upon his defence with supporting evidence thereof.  

Judge plays a crucial role in acquittal

The acquittal under Section 232 CrPC is there only in Sessions Trial, but not in Warrant Case. The judge plays a crucial role in the acquittal of the accused at this stage. Only a learned and competent judge can take such a bold decision as he is bound to justify the decision with sufficient reasoning. Allowing the accused to proceed to further phase of trial process is an easier and less strenuous option for a judge.  

The term “no evidence” used in the section refers to “no legal evidence of proof” but not of “no evidence” or “not satisfactory” evidence. It means the evidence available would not constitute the offence charged or the essential elements of the offence are absent, even if the evidence is factual.

The acquittal of the accused under Section 232 CrPC is not possible when the prosecution adduces no evidence at all and the statement of accused under Section 313 CrPC is not recorded. In such a situation, discharge (rather than acquittal) of the accused alone is possible.

What the court must ensure

In acquittal under Section 232 CrPC, the Sessions Court must ensure that the prosecution evidence was closed under Section 231 CrPC, the hearing was held under section 232 CrPC and the mind of the court was applied under Section 232 CrPC. After that a decision on “no evidence” was taken and then a detailed order of acquittal with reasons for arriving at the decision must be passed.

If there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the trial, then the court will issue a brief order and ask the accused to enter on defence evidence. If the accused produces no evidence at all in the defence evidence, it is safer to record his statement and obtain his signature so as to avoid any denial on his part later.

Non-compliance not to vitiate proceedings

Non compliance of the procedures under Section 232 CrPC will not vitiate proceedings or invalidate it when no substantial prejudice occurs against the accused.

But when a failure of justice has in fact been occasioned by that non-compliance, it is curable under Section 465 CrPC in the appeal stage.

Conclusion

Acquittal under Section 232 CrPC is a safety valve to the innocent person unduly accused with criminal offences.

If the judge properly applies his discretion in acquitting such people at an early stage of criminal trial, it will be beneficial to the accused persons unnecessarily charged with fabricated offences and to the criminal justice system as a whole in myriad ways.

NB: The author of this article, now with Thrissur Bar, can also be reached at rajankila@gmail.com

 

K Rajasekharan 
on 07 February 2020
Published in Criminal Law
Views : 631
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