The Supreme Court acquitted three accused persons convicted under Section 302 read with Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) by the Sessions Court. The Court found that the prosecution failed to establish the guilt of the appellants beyond reasonable doubt. In these appeals, the three accused challenged their conviction which was affirmed by the High Court. The prosecution's case was based on an incident where the accused allegedly chased and fatally shot the victim.

A two judge Bench of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar held that, “we are of the considered view that the prosecution had failed to prove the guilt of the appellants herein beyond reasonable doubt, and non-consideration of the lacuna in the prosecution case in proper perspective by the Trial Court and the High Court as analysed hereinabove has resulted in miscarriage in the administration of justice namely conviction of the appellants which cannot be sustained.”

Advocate Siddharth Mittal, Advocate Soumik Ghosal appeared for the Appellants and Advocate Manisha Aggarwal Narain appeared for the Respondent.

The Court noted that conviction of all the accused in this case was primarily based on the testimony of PW-9 and the recovery of motorcycles, as well as the motive attributed by PW-9 in his statement. However, several gaps and inconsistencies in the testimony raised serious doubts about the prosecution's case.

The Court found his testimony was inconsistent and unreliable. He did not name all the accused in his initial statement to the police. Moreover, he changed his version regarding the number of motorcycles involved and the identities of the persons riding them. The Court added, “the evidence of the eye-witness should be of very sterling quality and calibre and it should not only instil confidence in the court to accept the same but it should also be a version of such nature that can be accepted at its face value.”

The prosecution relied on CCTV footage, but the Court found that the quality and clarity of the footage were questionable. The faces of the assailants were not decipherable in the video, and the registration numbers of the motorcycles were also not visible. The Court said, “The courts below have relied on CCTV footage to convict the appellants and co-accused persons. However, we are of the considered view that said evidence could not have been relied upon, as it was infested with serious doubts and the very manner in which it came into existence itself would raise a serious doubt not only about its source but also raises a serious doubt about the presence of the appellants at the scene of crime.

The Court further said that confessional statements of the accused were recorded while they were in police custody, making them inadmissible as evidence according to Sections 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act. The Court added, “the confessional statement of the accused relied upon by the prosecution was admittedly recorded after the arrest of 17 those accused persons when accused 4, 5, and 6 were in police custody. Hence, said statement would become inadmissible having regard to the provisions of Sections 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act, of 1872. Section 25 of the Act in no uncertain terms makes it clear that no confession made to a police officer shall be proved as against a person accused of any offence. Likewise, Section 26 states that any such statement is inadmissible if given while in police custody”

The Court noted that the prosecution attempted to invoke Section 149 of the IPC to establish vicarious liability, but failed to prove that the accused shared a common object and were aware of the offenses likely to be committed in furtherance of that object. No overt act was attributed to the appellants, and the motive alleged was not substantiated. The Court said, “The prosecution had failed to prove that the appellants herein had shared a common object with other members of the alleged unlawful assembly. To convict a person under Section 149 IPC prosecution has to establish with the help of evidence that firstly, appellants shared a common object and were part of unlawful assembly and secondly, it had to prove that they were aware of the offences likely to be committed is to achieve the said common object. Both these ingredients are conspicuously absent and there is no evidence to connect the petitioners with the deceased or the co-accused.”

Consequently, the appeals were allowed, and the appellants were acquitted of the charges. The judgment passed by the lower courts was set aside, and the appellants were ordered to be released forthwith if not required in any other case.

Cause Title: Naresh & Ors. v. State of Haryana, [2023INSC889]

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