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Krishnegowda and Ors. v. State of Karnataka - (Supreme Court) (28 Mar 2017)

Accused is entitled to benefit of doubt, when there is contradiction between medical and ocular evidence and latches in investigation



Ratio: Accused is presumed to be innocent until his guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt

Instant appeals arise out of a common judgment wherein High Court has set aside order of acquittal passed by Trial Court and convicted the Accused. Accused were convicted under Section 302 read with Section 34 and 324 read with Section 149 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. It is submitted that, High Court based its conclusion by ignoring several material factors and hence, impugned judgment needs to be set aside. Issue that falls for consideration is whether High Court was justified in reversing order of acquittal passed by Trial Court.

High Court has failed to understand fact that, guilt of Accused has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and this is a classic case where at each and every stage of trial, there were lapses on part of investigating agency and evidence of witnesses is not trustworthy, which can never be a basis for conviction. Basic principle of criminal jurisprudence is that, Accused is presumed to be innocent until his guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Generally in criminal cases, discrepancies in evidence of witness is bound to happen because there would be considerable gap between date of incident and time of deposing evidence before Court, but if these contradictions create such serious doubt in mind of Court about truthfulness of witnesses and it appears to Court that there is clear improvement, then it is not safe to rely on such evidence. In case on hand, evidence of eyewitnesses is only consistent on aspect of injuries inflicted on deceased but on all other factors, there are lot of contradictions which go to root of matter.

All eyewitnesses were relatives and prosecution failed to adduce reliable evidence of independent witnesses for incident which took place on a public road in broad day light. Although, there is no absolute Rule that, evidence of related witnesses has to be corroborated by evidence of independent witnesses, it would be trite in law to have independent witnesses, when evidence of related eyewitnesses is found to be incredible and not trustworthy. Minor variations and contradictions in evidence of eyewitnesses will not tilt benefit of doubt in favour of Accused but when contradictions in evidence of prosecution witnesses proves to be fatal to prosecution case, then those contradictions go to root of matter and in such cases Accused gets benefit of doubt.

It is duty of Court to consider trustworthiness of evidence on record. As said by Benthem, "witnesses are eyes and ears of justice". In facts on hand, evidence of witnesses is filled with discrepancies, contradictions and improbable versions which led to irresistible conclusion that, evidence of witnesses cannot be a basis to convict Accused.

It is settled law that, mere latches on part of Investigating Officer itself cannot be a ground for acquitting Accused. If that is basis, then every criminal case will depend upon will and design of Investigating Officer. Courts have to independently deal with case and should arrive at a just conclusion beyond reasonable doubt basing on evidence on record. Once there is a clear contradiction between medical and ocular evidence coupled with severe contradictions in oral evidence, clear latches in investigation, then benefit of doubt has to go to Accused.

Supreme Court observed that, High Court has brushed aside vital defects involved in prosecution case and in a very unconventional way convicted Accused. Court should always make an endeavor to find truth. A criminal offence is not only an offence against an individual but also against society. There would be failure of justice, if innocent man is punished. Court should be able to perceive both sides i.e. prosecution as well as defence. Judgment of High Court set aside and order of acquittal passed by Trial Court re-affirmed.


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