Bichitra Mohanty v. State of Kerala
Date of Order:
6th February 2024
Hon’ble Mr. Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas
Petitioner/Accused: Bichitra Mohanty
Respondent/Complainant: State of Kerala
The Hon’ble High Court of Kerala (hereinafter referred to as ‘the High Court’ or ‘the Court’) stated that it would be unfair to alter the charges when the accused has pleaded guilty to different offences. Taking such plea into account for a trial under different offences jeopardizes the petitioner’s defense. The High Court allowed the petition and ruled that the petitioner was within his rights to contest the matter on merit basis without referring to his previous plea of guilt.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC):
- Section 279
- Section 338
- Section 304A
- Petitioner hails from Orissa and the incident occurred in Kerala.
- The petitioner was in an accident on 3rd January 2022, where he was driving a motorcycle bearing the registration plate no. KL-20-F-6047.
- Petitioner was allegedly driving the vehicle negligently and rashly, when he collided with a scooter bearing the number KL-07-CU-9435.
- The driver of the scooter suffered severe injuries.
- The petitioner was booked under sections 279 and 338 of IPC.
- Petitioner claims that he was illiterate in Malayalam, he abided by the police who had adviced him to plead guilty on 10th October, 2022, without understanding the consequences.
- The Judicial First Class Magistrate’s court in Kalamassery imposed a fine of Rs. 1000/- on the petitioner for each of the offences, which was paid by the petitioner.
- The case was disposed of on grounds of admission of guilt.
- The scooter driver, however, succumbed to his injuries after the disposal of the case.
- The charges against the petitioner were altered to section 304A of the IPC, and petitioner was served a summons for the same.
- The petitioner wishes for the case to be adjudicated on the basis of merit, and not admission of guilt as he had pleaded guilty to the former charges.
- Whether the plea of guilt can be forgone if the charges are altered?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE PETITIONER/ACCUSED:
- Due to his lack of knowledge of Malayalam, the petitioner agreed to the police’s advice to admit guilt of the charges under section 279 and 338 of IPC, without fully comprehending the implications.
- The charges being pressed on him now (section 304A) were far more severe than the charges he pled guilty to.
- Petitioner should be allowed to retract their admission in light of the more severe charges that been altered.
- Adjudication should be based on the merits of the case and not the petitioner’s admission to different charges.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT/COMPLAINANT:
- Petitioner has already pleaded guilty to the incident in question.
- The Court acknowledged that the petitioner did not have a grasp on the consequences of his admission to the charges, particularly in light of the altered charges.
- The Court referred to the case of Raseen Babu v. State of Kerala, where the significance of ensuring that a guilty plea is made voluntarily and with complete understanding of the charges was established.
- In the present case, it was clear that the petitioner’s plea of guilt was not for section 304A, but for section 279 and 338 of IPC. Had the petitioner been informed of section 304A as well, it would have been a different situation.
- It opined that the petitioner had the right to a fair trial, devoid of the prejudice of his previous admission.
- The lower court’s order was set aside and petitioner was allowed to contest his case based on merits.
The High Court ruled that an individual’s right to a fair trial cannot be jeopardized by transferring the plea of guilt. It held that the admission of guilt was to sections 279 and 338 of IPC which cannot be automatically transferred when the charges are altered to section 304 IPC. The plea of guilt must adhere to a strict procedure, whereby the petitioner fully understands the implications of the plea. The petition was allowed.