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There can be no conviction on the basis of conjectures: Supreme Court acquits two death penalty convicts
Digamber Vaishnav and Anr Vs State of Chhattisgarh
CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS. 428-430 OF 2019
About/from the judgment:
Reversing a conviction by the Chhattisgarh High Court, the Supreme Court today acquitted two death penalty convicts.
The judgment was passed by a Division Bench of Justices AK Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer in an appeal preferred by the two persons convicted for offences under Section 394 and Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The facts of the case are that the complainant Badridas Vaishnav and his brother Bhuneshwar Das lived in separate areas in Khapridih village, Chhattisgarh. Even after Bhuneshwar Das’s death, his family continued to reside in the property.
On December 17, 2012, one of the daughters of Bhuneshwar Das came to the house of Badridas to inform him that five of the family members were lying dead in the house. Upon reaching the site, Badridas saw that there was bleeding from the noses and mouths of the deceased, as well as injury marks on their necks.
After obtaining evidence implicating the appellants Digamber and Girdhari Vaishnav – including an anklet, a motorcycle and some cash – the prosecution came to the conclusion that they had committed robbery and murder of all the five ladies. The trial court convicted the two, and handed them the death penalty.
The death sentence was affirmed by the Chhattisgarh High Court; appeals preferred by the appellants were also dismissed. The two thus approached the Supreme Court in appeal.
Before the Supreme Court, counsel for the appellants Senior Advocate S Nagamuthu assailed the findings of the lower courts. He challenged the testimony of the main prosecution witness, who was a child. It was argued that the child witness was present in the house at the time of the incident but did not witness the actual incident. Her testimony was not corroborated, it was further contended.
It was submitted that the articles recovered from the appellants were not connected to the crime, hence there was no sufficient evidence to establish their guilt.
The Court observed that there can be no conviction on the basis of conjectures or suspicion. It reiterated that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in a case – one showing the guilt of the accused and the other proving innocence – the view that is favourable to the accused should be adopted, especially in cases based on circumstantial evidence.
Agreeing with the counsel for the appellants, the Court held that the evidence of a child witness must find adequate corroboration before it can be relied upon. It thus rejected the testimony for being in “direct contradiction with the facts as per the prosecution story“.
“It is clear from the testimony of PW-8 that she is not an eyewitness to the incident. She was aged about 9 years at the time of the incident. Her evidence is fraught with inconsistencies. None of the other witnesses have identified the appellants… In such circumstances, it is risky to rely on the uncorroborated identification of the appellants at the instance of PW-8 (the child witness), who has not disclosed about the appellants at the first instance..”
The Court also remarked that the delay in reporting the crime was unexplained. Moreover, it held that the evidence recovered pursuant to Section 27 of the Evidence Act could not be conclusively relied upon to determine the guilt of the appellants, as the ownership of the seized anklet and the motorcycle remained inconclusive. Moreover, the cash was also not traced back to the deceased.
The Court also found the “process of the lifting the print” from the crime scene suspicious.
As the gold ornaments, pearl necklace, silver ornaments, etc. were left behind on the deceased, the entire motive for the commission of the offence also remained unsubstantiated, the Court said.
It concluded that in such circumstances, it was “difficult to draw an inference” that the appellants had committed the crime.
The Court thus set aside the judgments of the Chhattisgarh High Court and the trial court, and acquitted the appellants of the crimes.
Read the Judgment
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