Supreme Court Upholds Acquittal of Murder Accused; Suspicion even if Very Strong Cannot Be Considered as Proof
The Supreme Court of India (SC) in its order dated 12 February 2021, in the case titled State of Odisha (Petitioners) v. Banabihari Mohapatra (Respondents) held that suspicion, however strong, cannot take the place of proof, and it stressed on the fact that an accused is presumed to be innocent unless proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The SC bench comprising of Justices Indira Banerjee and Hemant Gupta, observed while upholding an order of the High Court of Orissa (HC) wherein the HC acquitted two accused persons of murdering a home guard by electrocuting him.
The Bench said that there has to be a chain of evidence so complete as to show that in all human probability the act must have been done by the accused. It added that "It is well settled by a plethora of judicial pronouncement of this court that suspicion, however strong cannot take the place of proof. An accused is presumed to be innocent unless proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
The factual matrix of the case is that an FIR was lodged with the Police by Gitanjali Tadu (wife of the deceased person) her husband Bijay Kumar Tadu had been working deputed at Chandabali police station.
It was alleged by the woman that the accused Banabihari Mohapatra, his son Luja and other accomplices killed her husband with an electric shock after administering some poisonous substances to him.
The Top Court stated that as per the post mortem report the cause of death was electric shock and there is no conclusive evidence that the death was homicidal.
The SC bench added that "The mere fact that the deceased was lying dead at a room held by the accused respondent No 1 and that the accused respondents had informed the complainant that the deceased had been lying motionless and still and not responding to shouts and calls, does not establish that the accused respondents murdered the deceased."
The Court stressed the point that the prosecution has miserably failed to establish the guilt of the accused in this case and the Trial Court has rightly acquitted the accused respondents. The HC has also upheld the findings of the Trial Court.
The Apex Court referred to the judgment in the case of Shanti Devi v. State of Rajasthan (2012) 12 SCC 158, and it reiterated the following principles for conviction of the accused based on circumstantial evidence-
a. "The circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be proved must be cogently or firmly established.
b. The circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards the guilt of the accused.
c. The circumstances taken cumulatively must form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability, the crime was committed by the accused and none else.
d. The circumstantial evidence in order to sustain conviction must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be inconsistent with his innocence."
The SC stated, "Before a case against an accused can be said to be fully established on circumstantial evidence, the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn must fully be established and the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused."
It further said, "There is a strong possibility that the accused, which was as per the opinion of the doctor, who performed the autopsy, intoxicated with alcohol, might have accidentally touched a live electrical wire while he was asleep."
While dismissing the appeal, the bench added "It cannot be said that the reasons given by the HC to reverse the conviction of the accused are flimsy, untenable or bordering on the perverse appreciation of evidence."