Read Judgment: Bijender @ Mandar vs. State of Haryana
New Delhi, November 9, 2021: While noting that that the prosecution in the present case had miserably failed to bring home the guilt of the appellant, the Supreme Court has opined that it may not be wise or prudent to convict a person only because there is rampant increase in heinous crimes and victims are often reluctant to speak truth due to fear or other extraneous reasons.
A Larger Bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Surya Kant therefore observed that where the prosecution fails to inspire confidence in the manner and/or contents of the recovery with regard to its nexus to the alleged offence, the Court ought to stretch the benefit of doubt to the accused.
The observation came pursuant to appeal challenging the judgment of High Court, whereby the conviction of the Accused persons by the Trial Court u/s 397 IPC and/or Section 120B IPC was maintained by observing that due to enormous rise in instances of dacoity, the non-identification of the accused in the Court could not be construed as a material consideration where other evidence points towards the commission of the crime.
After considering the evidence and testimonies, the Larger Bench observed that the question which falls for consideration thus is as to whether the conviction of the Appellant on the strength of the purported disclosure statement and the recovery memo, can be sustained in the absence of any corroborative evidence.
The Larger Bench opined that the burden to prove the guilt beyond doubt does not shift on the suspect save where the law casts duty on the accused to prove his/her innocence.
It is the bounden duty of the prosecution in cases where material witnesses are likely to be slippery, either to get their statements recorded at the earliest u/s 164 Cr.P.C. or collect such other cogent evidence that its case does not entirely depend upon oral testimonies, added the Bench.
The Top Court found that it is nearly three centuries old cardinal principle of criminal jurisprudence that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer”.
The doctrine of extending benefit of doubt to an accused, notwithstanding the proof of a strong suspicion, holds its fort on the premise that “the acquittal of a guilty person constitutes a miscarriage of justice just as much as the conviction of the innocent”, added the Court.
“Courts below have been unwittingly swayed by irrelevant considerations, such as the rise in the incidents of dacoity. In its desire to hold a heavy hand over such derelictions, the Trial Court and the High Court have hastened to shift the burden on the Appellant to elucidate how he bechanced to be in possession of the incriminating articles, without primarily scrutinizing the credibility and admissibility of the recovery as well as its linkage to the misconduct”, observed the Apex Court.
The Larger Bench went on to highlight that the High Court and the Trial Court failed to take into consideration that the testimony of ASI Rajinder Kumar (prosecution witness 14) exhibited no substantial effort made by the police for conducting the search of the residence of the Appellant in the presence of local witnesses.
The only independent witness to the recovery was Raldu (prosecution witness 8) who was admittedly a companion of the Complainant, added the Bench.
The Apex Court therefore said that the Trial Court and the High Court have erroneously drawn adverse inference against the Appellant, in spite of the Prosecution having lamentably failed to adequately dispense with its burden of proof to depict culpability of the Appellant.
“As far as the view of the Trial Court and the High Court qua the alleged threat is concerned, we find it hard pressed to give credence to such allegations in the absence of any compelling evidence to substantiate the same. Although, the Prosecution has attempted to place reliance on the affidavit presented by the Complainant during the T.I.P. offered by the co-accused Manjeet, we find that the said affidavit does not name the Appellant herein and pertains solely to Manjeet”, observed the Apex Court.
Accordingly, the Apex Court acquitted the Appellant of all the charges and quashed the orders of conviction passed by the Trial Court as well as the High Court, since the evidence on record does not establish the guilt of the Appellant beyond reasonable doubt.