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Patna High Court: trial court order is an example of how not to write a judgement, husband acquitted of dowry death charge

The finding of fact should be based on legal testimony and should be based on legal grounds. Neither the finding of fact nor the decision should be based upon wild suspicion, hypothetical presumption, surmises and conjectures

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The Patna High Court acquitted a husband from the charges of dowry death, observing no direct evidence against the husband and kin for the murder of the deceased.

The Division Bench of Justice Ashwani Kumar Singh and Justice Arvind Srivastava said that the judgement by the trial court as “an example of how not to write a judgement”.

The judgment under consideration is an example of how not to write a judgment. It has repeatedly been emphasized by the Supreme Court that the Courts and Judges must make a dispassionate assessment of evidence and that the Courts and Judges should not be swayed by the horror of crime and the character of the person. The judgment should be made by a Judge uninfluenced by his own imagined norms of the functioning of the society”

The Case

As per the FIR, the husband namely Nasiruddin got married with Sanjeeda Khatoon in year 2003. The groom’s father Abdul Jabbar gave clothes, ornaments and gifts according to his capacity. The father alleged that the husband demanded a Motorcycle which he promised to give in sometimes and then the ‘bidagari’ was performed.

The further stated that in March 2007, he came to know that the husband and kins has killed his daughter by mixing poison in her food because of non-fulfillment of demand of motorcycle and buried her body without informing him or his family members.

The Police

In November 2007, after investigation, the police filed a charge sheet under IPC sections 498-A, 306 and 201/34 against husband and sister-in-law Salamu Nesha, while police observed that the father of husband Maqsood Alam was innocent.

Trial Court Altered the Charges

In May 2017, the trial court passed the order and altered the charge to Sections 304-B, 302 and 201/34 of the IPC.

Examination during Trial

It was accepted by the father of the deceased when examined during trial that the deceased was taken to hospital by the husband for treatment and when her condition deteriorated, she was taken to Gorakhpur for better treatment, but on way she died.

The Police office Ashutosh Kumar who was SHO that time stated that, he exhumed the body of the deceased Sanjeeda at Haradiyan from Qabristan in presence of the B.D.O. and witnesses and then sent the body of the deceased Sanjeeda for post-mortem examination and also sent the viscera to the Forensic Science Laboratory.

The I.O. further admitted that he was informed that the deceased became sick and then she was taken to hospital for treatment in a Bolero vehicle. I.O. also stated that he did not investigate the case on the point of treatment provided to the deceased before her death and he also did not investigated whether the family members of the deceased were present or not at the time of her burial.

After examination of the witnesses, this came in light that the father of the deceased was present in the hospital during the treatment. Also that when she was referred to Gorakhpur hospital, the father was also in the vehicle when the deceased along with the husband. It was also came in light that the deceased’s family was present during the burial rituals were performed and the photograph were also taken.

The Trial Court

The court stated in para 42 of the order as;

“a serious conspiracy and determination and mala fide intention is clearly established against both the accused leading to commit brutal murder of Indian legal wedded wife due to non-fulfillment of desire like asking a motorcycle in dowry demand.”

The trial court also called the husband and other accused persons a ‘बहसी दरिन्दा‘.

” It also gives a clear cut impact against the accused persons that they are so cruel or ‘बहसी दरिन्दा’ that he could not spare own beloved wife, who has promised with her while ‘Nikah’ was commenced that he will maintain his legal wedded wife properly and look-after her carefully without any complain and torture.”

The counsel for the appellant

The counsel for the appellants submitted that, “when two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case, one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence, the benefit of doubt should be given to the accused.”

The Bench

The bench termed the the trial court remarks in para-42 as “derogatory remarks” and also said that the trial court should avoid making such remarks.

“The Trial Court ought to have avoided the sweeping and disparaging remarks made in para 42 of its judgment regarding the conduct of the appellants,” the High Court said.

The bench said that, “a Judge is required to keep certain basic rules in mind”;

a Judge is required to keep certain basic rules in mind. The supreme requirement of a judgment is reason, which is the rational to the conclusion. Reasoning is the mental process through which a Judge reaches to his conclusion.”

It further states that, the conclusion should be based on legal testimony on the legal grounds.

All conclusions should be supported by reasons duly recorded. The finding of fact should be based on legal testimony and should be based on legal grounds. Neither the finding of fact nor the decision should be based upon wild suspicion, hypothetical presumption, surmises and conjectures”

It further added that, it is required for a judge to be careful while commenting on the conduct of the parties.

Further, while commenting on the conduct of the parties, a Judge is required to be careful to use sober and restrained language. He should avoid use of disparaging and derogatory remarks against any person whose case may be under consideration before him.”

It further said that;

“A Court while writing judgment has a onerous task of being dispassionate in assessing the evidence. Indulging in trial and error in arriving at a decision making tends to cloud the cognitive space with the attendant cognitive biases. The clouded mind then tends to fit in the causal chain to the prototypes based on biologically and socially evolved capacities; social pressures, individual motivations and emotions. In making decision a judge is required to avoid the intuitive/reflexive outcome based on the causal chain of events available and focus on deliberative aspect of decision making otherwise the judge would tend to draw illusory correlation between the chain of events and the reflexive outcome.”

It further stated that, a well trained mind leads to more balanced and rational outcome.

“the decision making requires a certain level of motivation and cognitive capacity of a judge. A well trained mind of a judge along with self realization of the available biases occupying his cognitive space would help a judge avoid the pit falls of heuristic and avoid distorted thinking leading to a more balanced and rational outcome.”

The bench also noticed that the sections was altered by the trial court where IPC section 302 was added and IPC section 498a was removed.

due to alteration of the original charge vide order dated 08.05.2017, the charge under Sections 498-A and 306 became non-existent

The bench also observed error in para 43 of the trial court judgement, there was no charge under IPC section 306 but the trial court put a remarks for the section.

“Surprisingly, in para 43 of the judgment, the Trial Court held that the case under Section 306 of the IPC is not made out. After alteration of charge, since there was no charge under Section 306 of the IPC, there was no occasion for the Trial Court to have recorded such finding in respect of Section 306 of the IPC.”

The bench relied upon the judgement of the Supreme Court in Shanti Vs. State of Haryana (1991) 1 SCC 371, and stated that,

“that Sections 304-B and 498-A of the IPC are not mutually exclusive. They deal with two distinct offences. A person charged and acquitted under Section 304-B of the IPC can be convicted under Section 498-A of the IPC without charge being framed, if such a case is made out.”

The Bench explained circumstantial evidence

The bench observed that there is no direct evidence against the husband and kin for the murder of the deceased.

“Insofar as the conviction of the appellants under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code is concerned, it would appear from the record that there is complete lack of direct evidence of murder of the deceased. The conviction of the appellants is purely based on circumstantial evidence.”

It further states that, “the circumstantial evidence is evidence of circumstances”;

“The circumstantial evidence is direct evidence of a fact from which a person may reasonably infer the existence or non-existence of another fact. A person’s guilt of a charged crime may be proved by circumstantial evidence if that evidence, while not directly establishing guilt, gives rise to an inference of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the circumstantial evidence is evidence of circumstances which can be relied upon not as proving a fact directly, but instead as pointing to its existence.”

If further states the “question that needs to be determined”;

In every case based on circumstantial evidence, the question that needs to be determined is whether the circumstances relied upon by the prosecution are proved by reliable and cogent evidence and whether all the links in the chain of circumstance are complete so as to rule out the possibility of innocence of the accused.”

It also stated that “circumstantial evidence should be tested on the touchstone of the law”;

Undoubtedly, the conviction can be based solely on circumstantial evidence, but it should be tested on the touchstone of the law relating to proof beyond reasonable doubt

The bench also quoted the Supreme Court judgement in Sharad Birdhichand Sarda vs. State of Maharashtra since reported in (1984) 4 SCC 116

“(1) the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established.
(2) the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused, that is to say, they should not be explainable on any other hypothesis except that the accused is guilty,
(3) the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency,
(4) they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved, and
(5) there must be a chain of evidence so complete as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability the act must have been done by the accused. 154. These five golden principles, if we may say so, constitute the panchsheel of the proof of a case based on circumstantial evidence.”

The bench observations in the case

The bench said that since this a case of “circumstantial evidence”, then in such situation it become important to prove the motive which prosecution has failed to prove.

the prosecution has utterly failed to prove the motive beyond doubt. Thus, an important thing to complete the chain of circumstances is totally absent in the present case.”

The bench also observed that the medical and forensic does not proves beyond reasonable doubt that it was a case of homicidal death.

The bench also observed that the trial court ignored the evidence of I.O.that the deceased was taken to hospital for treatment and she died while being taken to Gorakhpur by the husband and his relatives for treatment. It was also ignored that deceased family was presented in the burial rituals. The trial court also ignored the statement of mother of the deceased. Even the body of the deceased was not disposed of hurriedly, it was brought back to the matrimonial home of the deceased and the burial took place as per Muslim rites in the Qabristan.

“It also erred in ignoring the fact that the prosecution failed to establish any reliable evidence of subsisting demand. Thus, in the absence of the fulfillment of the essential ingredients of Section 304-B of the IPC, the conviction of the appellants under Section 304-B of the IPC cannot be upheld.”

The bench directed to release the accused and allowed the appeal.

Read Order – Nasruddin Mian Vs The State of Bihar – Acquittal in Dowry Death

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