Table of Contents
In a very interesting decision in Ashish Jain Versus Makrand Singh and Ors. decided on 14th January 2019, the Supreme Court deals with a host of issues in an appeal against the order of acquittal passed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Jabalpur, Gwalior Bench.
The Trial Court found the three accused persons Makrand Singh, Raj Bahadur Singh and Shyam Sunder guilty of committing double murder for gain for the offences punishable under Sections 302 read with 34, 394 read with 34 and 449 of the Indian Penal Code (in short “the IPC”), and Sections 11 read with 13 of the Madhya Pradesh Dakaiti and Vyapharan Prabhavit Kshetra Adhiniyam (in short “the MPDVPKA”) and additionally respondent Makrand Singh for offences under Section 25(1)(b)(a) read with Section 27 of the Arms Act and Sections 11 and 13 of the MPDVPKA for causing the death of three people, viz. Premchand Jain, his wife Anandi Devi and unmarried daughter Preeti, and for committing a robbery of Rs. 30,000/ in cash and about Rs. 8,00,000/ worth of gold and silver.
PW26 is the nephew of the deceased Premchand, who grew suspicious of the house of the deceased being locked from the outside and intimated the police about the same. The police upon opening of the door found that all three occupants of the house, Premchand Jain, his wife Anandi Devi and unmarried daughter Preeti dead in a pool of blood. The chest in which the deceased Premchand used to keep the pawned gold and silver ornaments and cash was found broken open with its contents missing. Thus, an inference was drawn that the accused persons, who are electricians, and who did regular repair works at the house of the deceased, had committed the said offence. The FIR was filed by PW26, and investigation was commenced which led to the arrest of the accused persons.
Investigation, circumstances and Evidence
- The following were recovered from the accused persons:
- Gold ornaments which were pledged by several persons and cash, which was identified by the Executive Magistrate,
- bloodstained clothes and certain electrical tools, i.e. a suja and a chisel, which were said to be the weapons of offence
- The key used to lock the house from outside after the commission of the crime was also recovered from a field at the instance of Accused No.1, Makrand Singh.
- A countrymade pistol was also seized at the instance of Accused No. 1 from his possession.
- Upon opening of the locked door, PW26 had found that tea cups in the kitchen and certain electrical equipments lying around the house
- On enquiry around the house, PW12, saw the entry of the accused with some electrical equipments in the evening at around 6:00-6:30 p.m. and PW20 saw the accused persons leaving the house in a hurried fashion. The FIR was registered after this.
- PW12 who was acquainted with the accused, had asked them on the fateful evening as to the purpose of the visit, for which the accused had stated that they were there to carry out some electrical works.
- PW20, who is a nephew of the deceased Premchand had seen the accused persons leave the house in a hurried fashion about about 9.00 PM
- Deceased Premchand was seen to have been clutching some hair, which was sent the Forensic Science Lab along with the accused persons hair for comparison. The FSL has found that the hair recovered from the hand of the deceased was similar in nature to both the hair samples of Accused No. 1 and Accused No. 2 (but the results were inconclusive nevertheless)
- The blood group of the blood stained clothes was identified as O blood group, which is allegedly the same blood group of the deceased persons
- Fingerprints lifted from the tea cups matched certain points with the fingerprints of the accused persons
Trial Court and High Court
The Trial Court convicted the accused persons with capital punishment. The division bench of the High Court had a divergent view of the matter and a third Judge heard the matter. The bench leaned towards acquitting the accused persons with a 2:1 ratio.
Considerations and Opinion by Supreme Court
Interference by the Supreme Court in appeal against acquittal – In cases of appeal, the Supreme Court must not normally interfere as the the presumption of innocence is fortified by the acquittal by the High Court. There is a double presumption in favour of the accused, as the initial presumption of innocence is further reinforced by an acquittal by the High Court. [Relying on State of Rajasthan v. Islam and Ors., (2011) 6 SCC 343, State of U.P. v. Awdhesh, (2008) 16 SCC 238, and State (Delhi Admin.) v. Laxman Kumar and Ors., (1985) 4 SCC 476)]
Presence of the Accused Persons, non-containing of information in the FIR and delay in recording statement of the witnesses – The FIR did not contain the information that the accused persons were found entering or exiting the house of the deceased. PW26 had launched the FIR after enquiring with PW12 and PW20, who had allegedly seen the entry and exit of the accused persons. However, this information was not found in the FIR. Further, PW12 and PW20 statement was not recorded on the same day, but the next day, which indicates an afterthought.
Related witness and Chance witness PW20 statement cannot be believed due to contradictions- PW20 admitted that he could not remember how many people came out holding bags, and how any came out empty handed, along with the fact that he did not usually take the route in front of the house/shop of the deceased to reach his house from his shop, which shows that he is a chance witness. Keeping in mind that this witness was related to the deceased, and appears to be a chance witness with material discrepancies in his account, the Court discarded his evidence as to the last seen circumstance.
Delay in the arrest, despite clear knowledge of the whereabouts of the accused persons, casts a serious shadow of doubt over the case of the prosecution. The accused persons were arrested from their home only on the next day. The accused persons did not abscond and were arrested only from their home. The accused persons were not absconding, which is unnatural conduct on the part of an offender who knows that he has been observed entering the house of the deceased on the day of the offence.
Recovery made on the basis of involuntary statements effectively the incriminating circumstance based on such recovery – Even though recovery was made from the accused person based on their confession, the evidentiary value of such recovery is nullified for the reasons that the statement was recorded after repeated interrogation and the same cannot be relied upon , and severely undermines the prosecution case.
Identification of Jewelry by the the owners of the jewels not proper as the identification procedure was conducted without mixing the recovered jewellery with similar or identical ornaments. Additionally, there is nothing on record to show the identity of the pledgors and to prove that the identified ornaments were pledged by them to the deceased. Further, the books of accounts which was produced by the prosecution, had continuing entry after the date of the incident and further, there was the book was returned without any prayer for the same, and without following any procedure. There was no entry or signature in the book that was matched with any specific pledgor.
Weapons recovered at the instance of the accused, use in the offence not established by the prosecution – prosecution has not established that these are the weapons which were used for the commission of the crime.
Blood stains recovered from the clothes of the accused is human blood, with same blood group as the deceased. But no material to prove what is the blood group of the deceased.
Fingerprints lifted from the scene of occurrence and that of the accused matches, but in the current facts and circumstances, the absence of a magisterial order casts doubts on the credibility of the fingerprint evidence, especially with respect to the packing and sealing of the tumblers on which the fingerprints were allegedly found, given that the attesting witnesses were not independent witnesses, being the family members of the deceased.
High ranking Police official had visited the scene of occurrence and had seen the electrical equipments and three tumblers had inferred that the accused persons had committed the offences. It was observed that the view of the police office could have influenced investigation right from the infancy stage.
In view of the above infirmities in the prosecution case, the Supreme Court had moved to affirm the order of the High Court acquitting the three accused persons. This decision is unique as the Supreme Court through J. MOHAN M. SHANTANAGOUDAR had dealt with a host of issues whereby the infirmities in the closely knit case of the prosecution were identified.