Supreme Court acquits accused persons in 1985 murder case; gives benefit of doubt

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The bench ordered, "the trial court’s judgment of conviction and order of sentence contained in its decision dated January 29, 1986, being unsustainable, stands set aside".

The Supreme Court recently set aside an Allahabad High Court order upholding the trial court's order convicting four accused in a 1985 murder case. The Supreme Court acquitted the accused while giving them the benefit of doubt.

The judgment was delivered by a bench comprising Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Dipankar Datta in a plea challenging the Allahabad High Court order dismissing an appeal against the Trial Court's order convicting the accused of murder. In January 1986, the Trial Court found Munna Lal, Sheo Lal, Babu Ram, and Kalika guilty of the crime of murder.

The bench observed:

  • statement of the witness under section 161, Cr. P.C. was recorded nearly 24 days after the incident. Since the Investigating Officer did not enter the witness box, the appellants did not have the occasion to cross-examine him and thereby elicit the reason for such delay;
  • though the investigation officer is said to have reached the place of occurrence at 1.30 p.m. on September 5, 1985, and recovered a bullet in the blood oozing out from the injury at the hip of the dead body, no effort worthy of consideration appeared to have been made to seize the weapons by which the murderous attack was launched; and
  • the medical evidence tendered by PW-1, if believed in its entirety, led the Court to form an opinion that the evidence of the Investigating Officer having recovered a bullet leading to its seizure at the place of occurrence was doubtful.

Over the above-mentioned issues, the bench said, "Mere defects in the investigative process by itself cannot constitute ground for acquittal. It is the legal obligation of the Court to examine carefully in each case the prosecution evidence dehors the lapses committed by the Investigating Officer to find out whether the evidence brought on record is at all reliable and whether such lapses affect the object of finding out the truth."

"The disturbing features in the process of investigation, since noticed, have not weighed in the Court’s mind to give the benefit of doubt to the appellants but on proper evaluation of the various facts and circumstances, it has transpired that there were reasons for which the witness might have falsely implicated the appellants and also that another witness was not a wholly reliable witness," the bench added.

In view of the above, the bench opined that there is a fair degree of uncertainty in the prosecution story and the courts below appear to have somewhat been influenced by the oral testimony of witnesses.

The bench acquitted the accused while stating that the charge that the appellants had murdered, could not be said to have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Case Title: SHEO LAL Vs. THE STATE OF UTTAR PRADESH and connected matter