Supreme Court: Accused May Only Be Discharged If No Crime Is Made Out, Presuming All Prosecution Evidence True

The Supreme Court of India recently overturned a Bombay High Court ruling that had discharged two murder suspects. The higher court found that the High Court had not adequately considered all the evidence collected by the investigative agency that had been presented with the charge-sheet.

Justices Abhay S. Oka and Rajesh Bindal served on the Supreme Court’s division bench. They opined that the High Court had not thoroughly reviewed the evidence submitted along with the charge-sheet. They noted a selective citation of statements from individuals interviewed during the investigation. This suggested to the Supreme Court Justices a lack of due diligence in the High Court’s assessment, with an insufficient application of mind and a misuse of jurisdiction.

The case’s genesis lies in an FIR lodged on May 14, 2006, at the Lonawala City Police Station. The report pertained to the murder of Manmohan Singh Sukhdev Singh Virdi, who was found lifeless in his bedroom, in a pool of blood.

Following the FIR registration, an investigation ensued, during which several individuals’ statements were recorded under Sections 161 and 164 of the CrPC. Respondent no. 1, one of the accused, was subject to a Psychological Evaluation that included Psychological Profiling, Polygraph Testing, and Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature Profiling (BEOS). Similar evaluations were conducted on four other individuals deemed to be close associates of respondent no.1.

Post-investigation, a charge-sheet was submitted on December 9, 2009, against respondent no. 1 and respondent no. 2, the two accused persons. The charge-sheet alleged that respondent no. 1’s wife (respondent no. 2) had developed a relationship with the deceased while respondent no.1 was conducting business in Dubai. The friendship allegedly escalated into a physical relationship, and upon learning this upon his return, respondent no.1 sought revenge. It was claimed that respondent no.1 conspired with respondent no.2 and an unknown third party to kill the deceased.

The Magistrate committed the case to the Sessions Court, where the accused persons sought discharge. Their application was dismissed on February 21, 2012. The Bombay High Court, however, discharged respondents no. 1 and 2 on July 17, 2013. This ruling was subsequently challenged in the Supreme Court by the appellant.

The appellant’s counsel contended that the High Court had prematurely conducted a ‘mini-trial’ by referencing selective statements recorded by police during the investigation. They argued that this went beyond the Court’s jurisdiction at the discharge application consideration stage. They also highlighted the failure of the High Court to account for the psychological evaluations conducted on respondent no.1 and his associates.

In contrast, the counsel for respondents no.1 and 2 argued that the case was a ‘blind murder’ with no eye-witnesses. They claimed that the prosecution built a false narrative unsupported by material evidence, and the Trial Court had not exercised its jurisdiction to discharge the accused.

The Supreme Court determined that at the charge hearing stage, all evidence produced by the prosecution must be taken as true, and only if no offence is made out should an accused be discharged. The Court further noted that, “Truthfulness, sufficiency, and acceptability of the material produced can be done only at the stage of trial.” They clarified that a Court’s intervention at this stage is only necessary if there are substantial reasons to believe that allowing the trial to proceed would be an abuse of the Court’s process.

On this point, the Supreme Court referred to its own decisions in State of Rajasthan v. Ashok Kumar Kashyap and State of Karnataka v. M.R. Hiremath. The Court found that the High Court had only partially referred to the material collected by the investigating agency when it discharged the respondents. Several individuals’ statements were not referenced or considered by the High Court, despite their potential relevance to the case.

The Court also observed that the Directorate of Forensic Sciences Laboratory’s opinion suggested respondent no.1’s involvement in the murder. Furthermore, respondent no.1’s psychological profiling indicated an antisocial personality with a tendency to violate social norms. Consequently, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court’s order.

The case, known as Captain Manjit Singh Virdi (Retd.) v. Hussain Mohammed Shattaf & Ors., adds further jurisprudence to the established principle of presumption of innocence and the procedural requirements necessary for the discharge of accused individuals in a criminal case.

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