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Supreme Court Set Aside Capital Punishment Due To Gaps In The Chain Of Circumstantial Evidence

Rajesh & Anr v/s The State of Madhya Pradesh [Criminal Appeal No(s). 793-794 of 2022]

The Supreme Court found that the yawning infirmities and gaps in the chain of circumstantial evidence in the case warrant acquittal of the appellants by giving them the benefit of doubt. 

The degree of proof required to hold them guilty beyond reasonable doubt, on the strength of circumstantial evidence, was clearly not established.

The three judges bench of Justice B.R. Gavai, Justice J.B. Pardiwala And Justice Sanjay Kumar said that the higher principle of ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ and more so, in a case built on circumstantial evidence, would have to prevail and be given priority. It is high time, perhaps, that a consistent and dependable code of investigation is devised with a mandatory and detailed procedure for the police to implement and abide by during the course of their investigation so that the guilty do not walk free on technicalities, as they do in most cases in our country.

The controversy came into light when Ajit Pal @ Bobby, a 15-year-old lad, was killed brutally in the last week of July, 2013. A neighbour, Om Prakash Yadav, along with his brother, Raja Yadav, and son, Rajesh @ Rakesh Yadav, stood trial in Sessions Case for Ajit Pal’s murder and connected offences. Raja Yadav and Rajesh Yadav were sentenced to death and Om Prakash Yadav was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The bench noted that the prosecution’s case clearly reveals that it is poised entirely on circumstantial evidence as there was no eyewitness to the kidnapping and murder of Ajit Pal.

It is a well settled law that in a case resting on circumstantial evidence, the prosecution must establish a chain of unbroken events unerringly pointing to the guilt of the accused and none other.

The Apex court found that the prosecution utterly failed to pass muster in establishing its case. There are cavernous gaps in the evidence that the prosecution would offer as an ‘unbroken chain unerringly pointing to the guilt of the appellants’. Discrepancies galore in the prosecution’s case tear as under the fabric of its purported version as to how events unfolded. 

It is essential under Section 27 of the Evidence Act that the person concerned must be ‘accused of an offence’ and being in the ‘custody of a police officer’, he or she must give information leading to the discovery of a fact and so much of that information, whether it amounts to a confession or not, that relates distinctly to the fact discovered, may be proved against him. In effect, both aspects, viz, being in ‘the custody of a police officer’ and being ‘accused of an offence’, are indispensable pre-requisites to render a confession made to the police admissible to a limited extent, by bringing into play the exception postulated under Section 27 of the Evidence Act”, the court observed.

In the case on hand, though Rajesh Yadav was taken to the police station, be it on 29.03.2013 or even earlier, he could not be said to be in ‘police custody’ till he was arrested at 18:30 hours on 29.03.2013, as he did not figure as an ‘accused’ in the FIR and was not ‘accused of any offence’ till his arrest. 

The court said that it is indeed perplexing that, despite the innumerable weak links and loopholes in the prosecution’s case, the Trial Court as well as the High Court were not only inclined to accept the same at face value but went to the extent of imposing and sustaining capital punishment on Rajesh Yadav and Raja Yadav. No valid and acceptable reasons were put forth as to why this case qualified as the ‘rarest of rare cases’, warranting such drastic punishment.

The bench set aside the conviction and sentences of all the three appellants on all counts. 

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