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State of Odisha v. BanaBihari Mohapatra (2021) - Strong Suspicion cannot Take Place of Proof

Nandini Warrier ,
  24 February 2021       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court of India
Brief :
To answer the both questions asked in the beginning, suspicion, no matter how strong, can not constitute as proof, unless the circumstantial evidence passes the test of principles, as provided by the Shanta Devi v. State of Rajasthan case. That is settled by the plethora of decisions made by the Court. The accused will stay innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the special leave petition was dismissed.
Citation :

  • JUDGEMENT SUMMARY: State of Odisha v. BanaBihari Mohapatra
  • DATE OF JUDGEMENT: 12 February, 2021
  • JUDGES: Justices Indira Banerjee and Hemant Gupta
  • REFERENCE: Indian Kanoon
  • PARTIES:  The State of Orissa (petitioner) and BanaBihari Mohapatra and others (respondents)

SUBJECT

The following judgement deals with the special leave petition filed against a final judgment passed by the High Court of Orissa on 2nd November, 2020, which dismissed an application to appeal filed by Petitioner State, against a judgment passed on 14th January 2020, by the Sessions Judge, Bhadrak, which acquitted respondents from their charges under Sections 302/201, read with section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The decision of the High Court to acquit the accused in a murder case on the grounds that the accused wasn't found guilty, therefore proven innocent was upheld by the Supreme Court, stating that suspicion, however strong cannot take the place of proof. 

AN OVERVIEW

  • In this case, as per the FIR lodged by Gitanjali Tadu, the wife and complainant, Bijay Kumar Tadu, the deceased-had been working at Home guard, deputed at Chandabali Police Station, Chandabali.
  • The wife of the deceased stated that her husband used to go around and about with BanaBihari Mohapatra, the accused, who owned an electric sales and repairing shop, named “Raja Electricals'', near the Chandabali bus stand.
  • It was alleged that the first accused came to the residence of the deceased at around 7:30 AM on 23rd June, 2014 to inform the complainant that the deceased had been lying motionless and still, not responding to any calls. Later that day, the second respondent, son of Mr. BanaBihari also came by to inform that the deceased was lying motionless.
  • On hearing this, the complainant along with her family members arrived at Ferry Ghat, near Chandabali bus stand and found her husband lying dead, inside a room that was locked, with a swollen belly and a deep burn injury on his right foot which was apparently caused by electric shock. The body of the deceased appeared black and blood was oozing out from the mouth and nostril of the deceased.
  • In the FIR, the complainant has alleged that on 22nd June, 2016, the deceased had left the house to go to a relative's house. He had been wearing a gold chain on his neck and two gold rings on his fingers, and had been carrying Rs.800 for purchase of a new pair of pants and shirt and Rs.5,000/- for purchase of articles for a marriage.
  • After making relevant enquiries, she learned that the deceased had not visited the relatives. It was alleged by the complainant that the accused had killed the deceased by giving him some poison, and thereafter applying electric shock to him.
  • The sessions Judge, Bhadrak framed charges against the accused respondents alleging that together they had intentionally caused the death of the deceased, and also caused disappearance of evidence, hence making them guilty of offences under sections 34, 201 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code.
  • The prosecution failed to prove the charges against the respondents, and the Trial Court acquitted the accused under Section 235(1) of Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal in the murder case.
  • The post mortem report stated that the cause of death was electric shock, and there were also hints of alcohol within the body, and the doctor observed that the deceased was intoxicated, and the death was either accidental or homicidal, but not suicidal. There is no conclusive evidence that the death was homicidal.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS

Indian Penal Code:

  • Section 34: when a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each such person is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.
  • Section 201: whoever, knowing or having reason to believe that any offence has been committed, causes any evidence of the commission of that offence to disappear, with the intention of screening the offender from legal punishment, or with that intention gives any infor­mation respecting the offence which he knows or believes to be false; if a capital offence— shall, if the offence which he knows or believes to have been committed is punishable with death, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine; if punishable with imprisonment for life— and if the offence is punishable with 1[imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment which may extend to ten years, shall be punished with imprison­ment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine; if punishable with less than ten years’ imprisonment— and if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for any term not extend­ing to ten years, shall be punished with imprisonment of the description provided for the offence, for a term which may extend to one-fourth part of the longest term of the imprisonment pro­vided for the offence, or with fine, or with both.
  • Section 302: whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

Code of Criminal Procedure:

  • Section 235(1): After hearing arguments and points of law (if any), the Judge shall give a judgment in the case.

ISSUES

  • Whether suspicion can constitute as established evidence for commision of crime?
  • Can a case against the accused be established with only circumstantial evidence? 

ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGEMENT

 In today's world, trust is a very scarce concept, as is shown in the case above. In this judgement, the Supreme Court upheld the judgement of the High Court of Orissa with regards to acquitting the accused of a murder case. The main reason the Supreme Court upheld the judgement of the High Court of Orissa was that the prosecution failed to prove the charges against the accused, and the Supreme Court ruled that suspicion, however strong, can not constitute as proof, emphasizing that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

There were a total of nine(9) witnesses, none being eyewitnesses to the incident. The deceased died in a room owned by the first accused respondent, who did not abscond, but did inform the complainant and her family about the death of the deceased, stating that the deceased did not respond to calls, laying motionless and still. According to the post mortem results, it was revealed that the deceased died within 24 hours, from the time of examination, cause of death being electric shock. During the examination, the doctor found pieces of meat in the stomach of the deceased, along with hints and stench of alcohol. This led the doctor to state that the deceased was intoxicated before death, and that the death was either accidental, or homicidal, with no signs of it being suicidal. Without conclusive evidence of homicide, the death was ruled out as accidental.

The complainant lodged the FIR purely based on suspicion, since the deceased was found in the premises held by the first accused respondent. While providing evidence, the complainant stated that the accused had taken a loan from the deceased, which the accused had not repaid, when asked for by the deceased. This however, was not mentioned in the FIR, therefore was ruled as an afterthought, in order to provide motive for killing the deceased.

The fact that the deceased was found in the premises held by the first accused respondent, or that the accused informed the complainant about the deceased does not establish the accused as murderers of the deceased.

On carefully reading the evidence provided by witnesses on both sides, it was revealed that there were inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the statements of the witnesses related to the deceased.

This same court held the principles for conviction of accused based on circumstantial evidence, in another case: Shanta Devi v. State of Rajasthan (2012).

The principles are as follows:

  • The circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be proved must be cogently or firmly established.
  • The circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards the guilt of the accused.
  • The circumstances taken cumulatively must form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability, the crime was committed by the accused and none else.
  • The circumstantial evidence in order to sustain conviction must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be inconsistent with his innocence.

Keeping the principles above in mind, it can be observed that the prosecution failed to prove the charges against the accused, therefore the Trial Court rightfully acquitted the accused respondents. The Court observed that for a case to be fully established against the accused, based only on circumstantial evidence, from which the conclusion must be drawn, the evidence itself must be fully established, such that the facts established must be consistent with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused. There has to be a complete chain of evidence , not leaving any reasonable doubt for any conclusion, that can be consistent with the innocence of the accused and it must show that in all human probability, the act must have been done by the accused. The bench observed, after referring to the evidence on record, that there is a higher possibility that the deceased might have accidentally touched a live electrical wire, maybe when he was asleep.

CONCLUSION

To answer the both questions asked in the beginning, suspicion, no matter how strong, can not constitute as proof, unless the circumstantial evidence passes the test of principles, as provided by the Shanta Devi v. State of Rajasthan case. That is settled by the plethora of decisions made by the Court. The accused will stay innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the special leave petition was dismissed.

Click here to download the original copy of the judgment

 
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