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Supreme Court sets aside conviction in murder case based on faulty investigation, says can’t close eyes to gross injustice

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By Sahil Chandra

The Supreme Court has set aside the conviction and sentence of life imprisonment of three people under Section 302 IPC, noting that investigation was faulty and not carried out with the intention of unearthing the truth, but for burying the same fathom deep, for extraneous considerations and that it was denied to turn the informant and her family members as accused and allow the real culprits named in the FIR to escape. (Madhav vs State of Madhya Pradesh)

In this case, the apex court, while exercising its wide powers under Article 142, set aside the conviction of one of the accused who didn’t even file the appeal before the Court and set him free.

The bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and V. Ramasubramanian said, “This is a case where we have disbelieved, in entirety, the story of the prosecution. Therefore, to deny the benefit of the said conclusion to A-1 merely on ground of a technicality that he is not on appeal would be to close our eyes to a gross injustice, especially when we are empowered under Article 142 to do complete justice.”

The Supreme Court held that the investigation proceeded in the reverse gear right from the beginning. The Supreme Court concluded that “instead of proceeding in pursuit of truth, (the investigation) had proceeded towards burying the truth.”

The accused were Madhav, Sahodra Bai and Raju. Madhav and Sahodra appealed to the Supreme Court in two separate appeals that were heard and decided together. The offences were those of Section 302 read with section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for which they were sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 2500/- by the Sessions Court and confirmed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh vide a common order dated 19 th September. The appellants were represented by Mr. Ardhendumauli Kumar Prasad and Mr. Amit Arjariya.

The Incident

The story sought to be established by the prosecution was that on a fateful night of 13 th May 2018 at 10:30, the three accused namely Sahodra Bai, Raju (her husband and brother of the deceased), and Madhav (her brother), in furtherance of common intention attacked and killed one Pappu @ Nand Kishore, the brother of Raju, with a knife and lathis. Thereafter, to cover up, Sahodra Bai, took him to a government hospital and informed the police implicating two other person, Ruia Yadav and KailashYadav. She was additionally charged with Sections 211 and 194 IPC, but acquitted on that account.

Evidence adduced and the Supreme Court’s findings

Eye-Witness Account: Evidence of PW4 and PW5

They were related to Ruia and Kailash who had been named by Sahodra Bai. In their cross-examination, they were declared hostile as they contradicted themselves from their earlier statement made to the police by stating that Madhav was not present on the spot of occurrence. The Sessions Court believed their testimony in so far as it related to the presence of Raju and Sahodra but disbelieved their evidence as regards to the alleged assault.

The High Court, in the opinion of the Supreme Court, arbitrarily treated their testimony as independent witness despite being termed hostile and that too solely on the ground of corroboration of the testimony of a star witness whose testimony was considered partly.

Evidence of Ruia Yadav and Kailash Yadav

The Sessions Court disbelieved the testimony of Kailash in entirety but accepted a portion of the statement of Ruia regarding an argument of Raju with the deceased nearly two hours before the occurrence on the basis of corroboration by the mother of the deceased. The quarrel was over non payment of Rs 250 given to the deceased by Ruia, wherein Raju got injured.

It was alleged that thereafter the three accused attacked the deceased. The Trial Court relied upon this testimony based on the corroboration of the mother of the deceased in this regard. However, the Supreme Court observed that she had only stated that Raju only questioned the deceased as to why he had not repaid and that there was no reason for Raju to take up the cause of Ruia and go to the extent of committing the murder of his own brother.

Evidence of Sapna Yadav

Sapna Yadav, aged 16, was considered as a star witness. Her statement was recorded by the police after 21 days of the incident. She not only claimed knowledge of the arrest of the original accused in the FIR but also stated that after the incident there was a strike in the mohalla where the persons of Yadav caste pressurized the police into releasing them. This fact was not considered by the Courts below.

The Supreme Court also noted that the evidence of this ‘star witness’ was unbelievable as it was taken after 21 days, and moreover if her evidence was to be believed it should only be done in totality. This observation was made in relation to the aspect of political pressure influencing the investigation that was overlooked by the Trial Court and the High Court.

Seizure of weapons from the houses of the accused

The prosecution further relied upon the seizure of the knife and lathis from the house. In this regard, the Supreme Court considered two aspects. Firstly, that the witness of the seizure memo turned hostile and secondly, that there was unwarranted reliance on report of the Forensic Science Laboratory.

The seizure memo of the weapons used was purportedly made in the presence of the witness who did not support the prosecution. One of the witness also stated that his signature on the seizure memo was taken outside the hotel near the police station. Despite being termed hostile, the High Court gave credence to the seizure by holding that he had admitted the signatures in the seizure memo and memorandum statement.

Further, the Supreme Court recorded the finding that there was nothing on record to show that the blood stains that were present on the weapons, matched the blood of the deceased. The Forensic Sciences Laboratory report only stated that the weapons contained blood stains.

The Supreme Court observed the divergence of judicial decisions in this regard. A Constitution Bench in Raghav Prapanna Tripathi v. The State of Uttar Pradesh (1963) had held that it would be far-fetched to conclude that blood-stained earth was stained with human blood that was of the victims. In Kansa Behra v. State of Orissa (1987) this court acquitted the appellant on the ground that the serologist report did not connect the blood found on the clothes of the appellant to that of the deceased. In Surinder Singh v. State of Punjab (1989), the acquittal was based on the blood group not matching. Similarly, cases of Raghunath, Ramkishan & Ors. v. State of Haryana (2003) and Sattaiya v. State of Maharashtra (2008) were also considered.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court had also held that in State of Rajasthan v. Teja Ram &Ors. (1999) after referring to the Constitution bench judgment in Raghav Prapanna, had held that a serologist may fail to deduct the origin of the blood and that the effort of the criminal court should not be to prowl for imaginative doubts which should be of a reasonable dimension. This decision was followed subsequently in Gura Singh v. State of Rajasthan (2001) and in Prabhu Dayal v. State of Rajasthan (2018). Further, in Sunil Clifford Daniel v. State of Punjab (2012) the Supreme Court concluded that once a recovery is made in pursuance of a disclosure statement made by the accused, the matching or non-matching of blood groups loses significance.

The Supreme Court finally relied on the judgment in Balwan Singh v. State of Chhattisgarh (2019) which held that there could not be any fixed formula that prosecution has to prove the matching of blood groups, but the judicial conscience should be satisfied both about the recovery and the origin of human blood.

A sham investigation

The bias of the IO to favour the accused in the FIR who were named by Sahodra Bai, is also evident as on the first day of the investigation he had recorded the statements of several witnesses including them. Therefore, the pre-determination that the informant, her husband and her brother were culprits was manifest.

The Supreme Court was of the opinion that the IO did not proceed with the intention of unearthing the truth for extraneous considerations and the investigation was designed to turn the informant and her family members as accused to allow the real culprits named in the FIR to escape. The investigation was started in the morning after the FIR was registered at 11:50 the night before. Further, it opined that the investigation should start with the named accused. However, the investigation from the beginning made the informant, namely Sahodra Bai, her husband and brother as accused instead of the named accused in
the FIR.

The Court noted that the investigating officer had concluded that the abrasions on the back of Raju, ‘must’ have been caused during the scuffle that the deceased had with him. This was based on the medical examination which done two days later on 15th. Thereafter, on 16th, i.e. three days later, the police arrested the three persons. In effect the persons named as accused in the FIR were made witnesses for the prosecution, and after 18 days the statement of the so-called star witness was recorded by the police.

The Supreme Court opines that while it is true that for creation of an alibi, the perpetrators often lodge the FIR themselves, however even in those cases the investigation would normally proceed first against the named accused before turning the needle of suspicion against the informant.

In this regard it referred to the case of Kari Choudhari v. Mst. Sita Devi and Ors. (2002) where the Supreme Court held that the police can continue to investigate and reach a final conclusion regarding the real culprit. In this case, the informant was the mother-in-law who had registered an FIR in the death of her daughter in law and it was found that it was actually the murder was committed in pursuance to a conspiracy between the informant and other daughter in laws. It was also held that “Of course the legal position is that there cannot be two FIRs against the same accused in respect of the same case. But when there are rival versions in respect of the same episode, they would normally take the shape of two different FIRs and investigation can be carried on under both of them…”

The Supreme Court noted that in case the real culprit lodges the first information to misdirect the investigation, it is only during the course of the investigation, the case may take a U-turn. In those cases, additional charges against the informant under Chapter XI of IPC have to be added. In this case the informant was also charged with Sections 194 and 211 of the IPC, but the trial court had acquitted her.

The Court also held that it was unbelievable that in the presence of witness, the person who killed the deceased took him to the hospital in an autorickshaw. Barring intelligent and seasoned criminals, the normal human behavior would be to either flee or surrender.

Political pressure

The defence taken by the accused was that due to political influence, they were made accused. The Court also noted that as per the admission of the IO, there were political demonstrations when he took up the investigation. Further, the IO also stated that he was unaware if the persons originally named in the FIR were in custody or not, and yet did not effectuate their arrest subsequently. He did not explain why he did not suspect the two original named accused. Apart from the mention of this factor by the star witness mentioned above, the aspect of political pressure to implicate the informant and the other accused persons is also born out by the statement of IO who admitted that he had received verbal orders from his superiors to implead the accused named in the FIR as witness instead of accused.

Duty of a Court to ensure a fair trial and render complete justice

The Supreme Court opined that the accused were represented by amicus curiae either due to their inability to engage a counsel or non-appearance of the counsel engaged by them. Hence, it can be said that the accused did not receive the best of legal assistance, and in such cases, there is a heavy burden on the Court which the Trial Court and the High Court had not discharged.

The Supreme Court further observed that though Raju was not an appellant before the Court, he could not be denied the benefit of acquittal on the ground of technicality as the case is not based on the individual overt acts of the other two appellants, hence under Article 142, it exercised its power to acquit him also.

Conclusion

This case is demonstrative of the fact that the Courts at times overlook glaring inconsistencies in investigation. Investigation is the prerogative of the executive, however, its oversight by the judiciary is a necessary aspect of our criminal justice system.

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