The Supreme observed that, in murder trials, it is unsafe to convict an accused based solely on the testimony of an untrustworthy witness unless supported by strong corroborative evidence.

The Court dismissed an appeal filed by the State challenging the conviction of one Mohd. Jamil under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC).

The Court noted that the credibility of witnesses in the second trial was questionable due to factual inconsistencies and therefore conviction under Section 302 IPC would not be prudent.

The Bench comprising Justice MM Sundresh and Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra observed, “for trial under Section 302 IPC, if a witness is branded as untrustworthy having allegedly twisted the facts and made contrary statement, it is not safe to impose conviction on the basis of statement made by such witness”.

Advocate Rahul Sharma appeared for the State and Advocate Ashok Mathur appeared for the Respondent.

The Bench comprising Justice MM Sundresh and Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra convicted Mohd. Jamil under Sections 302 and 323 read with Section 34 IPC, partially allowing the Appeal, upholding the conviction under Section 323 IPC.

An incident led to the death of one Akbar and injuries to Deenu (PW1), Ahmad (PW-2), and Harun. Initially, Accused nos. 1, 2, and 3 were convicted under Sections 302 and 323 of the IPC but acquitted of Section 325. Akhtar Hussain (A4) was separately tried and acquitted of charges under Sections 302, 323, and 325.

Akhtar Hussain's (A4) acquittal was unsuccessfully challenged. Ghasita (A3) passed away during the appeal process. Mohd. Yunus (A1) was convicted only under Section 323, Ghasita (A3) was deceased, and Akhtar Hussain (A4) was acquitted. Consequently, Mohd. Jamil (A2) was the sole convict under Sections 302 and 323. The State challenged the High Court's judgment acquitting Mohd. Yunus (A1) under Section 302 but convicting him under Section 323.

A Criminal Appeal was filed by the State challenging the legality of Jamil's (A2) conviction, and simultaneously, the State questioned Yunus's (A1) acquittal under Section 302 IPC.

The Apex Court noted the High Court's rejection of the argument regarding the delay in registering the FIR or its alleged ante-dating, and the Court concurred with the High Court's determination on this matter.

The Court examined the initial account of the incident provided by the informant Deenu in the FIR, Ghasita (A3) struck the deceased with a Pharsa, followed by a second blow from Akhtar Hussain (A4) using a Pharsa over the head. Mohd. Jamil (A2) then delivered a third blow with a Kulhari on the head, and when the deceased fell, Mohd. Yunus (A1) struck with a lathi, and Ghasita (A3) delivered another blow to the head.

During Akhtar Hussain's (A4) trial, Deenu maintained his statement that Mohd. Jamil (A2), Ghasita (A3), and Akhtar Hussain (A4) assaulted the deceased with Pharsa and Kulhari. However, the Trial Court noted significant contradictions in Deenu's (PW-7) statement when compared to Ahmad's (PW-8) statement, leading to the Trial Court's disbelief in Deenu's testimony and the acquittal of Akhtar Hussain (A4) from charges under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC.

The Bench observed the Trial Court’s conclusion that both Deenu (PW-7) and Ahmad (PW-8) were interested witnesses and made improvements in their statements, making their testimony unreliable. Even though Mohd. Jamil (A2) and Akhtar Hussain (A4) were tried separately, the prosecution's key witnesses, Deenu (PW-7) and Ahmad (PW-8), were discredited in the second trial. The court emphasized the unreliability of a witness branded as untrustworthy in a trial under Section 302 IPC, especially when there is an attempt to falsely implicate an accused person. The Court also noted the enmity between the parties mentioned in the Trial Court judgment.

When there is an effort to falsely implicate one accused person, statement made by such an eyewitness cannot be relied without strong corroboration. Moreover, there is material on record proving previous enmity between the parties as mentioned in paragraph 25 of the trial court judgment”, the Court noted.

Furthermore, the Court noted that the Trial Court found the recovery of a lathi from Mohd. Yunus (A1) and a Kulhari from Mohd. Jamil (A2) was unsafe to rely upon, stating that the recovery was not proven. However, the recovery of a Pharsa from Ghasita (A3) was considered fully proved. It is essential to mention that the appeal filed by Ghasita (A3) has abated.

The Court set aside the judgments of the High and Trial Court convicting Mohd. Jamil (A2) under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC. However, the Court upheld his conviction under Section 323 read with Section 34 IPC. Consequently, Criminal Appeal No. 1308 of 2012 by Mohd. Jamil (A2) was partially allowed, maintaining his conviction and sentence under Section 323 read with Section 34 IPC.

Cause Title: State Of Haryana v Mohd. Yunus & Ors. (2024 INSC 34)

Appearance: Rahul Sharma, Sudershan Goel, P. N. Puri, Reeta Dewan Puri, Ravinder Pratap Singh, Monika Gusain and Ashok Mathur, Advocates

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