Mallappa vs State Of Karnataka 2024 INSC 104 :: [2024] 2 S.C.R. 288 – Criminal Trial – Presumption Of Innocence – Two Views Theory – Circumstantial Evidence

Criminal Trial – Presumption of Innocence – There is a presumption of innocence in favour of the accused, unless proven guilty. The presumption continues at all stages of the trial and finally culminates into a fact when the case ends in acquittal. The presumption of innocence gets concretized when the case ends in acquittal. It is so because once the Trial Court, on appreciation of the evidence on record, finds that the accused was not guilty, the presumption gets strengthened and a higher threshold is expected to rebut the same in appeal. (Para 24)

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973; Section 378, 386 – Criminal Appeal against Acquittal – Principles summarized: (i) Appreciation of evidence is the core element of a criminal trial and such appreciation must be comprehensive – inclusive of all evidence, oral or documentary; (ii) Partial or selective appreciation of evidence may result in a miscarriage of justice and is in itself a ground of challenge; (iii) If the Court, after appreciation of evidence, finds that two views are possible, the one in favour of the accused shall ordinarily be followed; (iv) If the view of the Trial Court is a legally plausible view, mere possibility of a contrary view shall not justify the reversal of acquittal; (v) If the appellate Court is inclined to reverse the acquittal in appeal on a re-appreciation of evidence, it must specifically address all the reasons given by the Trial Court for acquittal and must cover all the facts; (vi) In a case of reversal from acquittal to conviction, the appellate Court must demonstrate an illegality, perversity or error of law or fact in the decision of the Trial Court. (Para 36) – In the exercise of appellate powers, there is no inhibition on the High Court to re-appreciate or re-visit the evidence on record. However, the power of the High Court to re-appreciate the evidence is a qualified power, especially when the order under challenge is of acquittal. The first and foremost question to be asked is whether the Trial Court thoroughly appreciated the evidence on record and gave due consideration to all material pieces of evidence. The second point for consideration is whether the finding of the Trial Court is illegal or affected by an error of law or fact. If not, the third consideration is whether the view taken by the Trial Court is a fairly possible view. A decision of acquittal is not meant to be reversed on a mere difference of opinion. What is required is an illegality or perversity – Two-views theory – it comes into play when the appreciation of evidence results into two equally plausible views. However, the controversy is to be resolved in favour of the accused. For, the very existence of an equally plausible view in favour of innocence of the accused is in itself a reasonable doubt in the case of the prosecution. Moreover, it reinforces the presumption of innocence. And therefore, when two views are possible, following the one in favour of innocence of the accused is the safest course of action. Furthermore, it is also settled that if the view of the Trial Court, in a case of acquittal, is a plausible view, it is not open for the High Court to convict the accused by reappreciating the evidence. If such a course is permissible, it would make it practically impossible to settle the rights and liabilities in the eyes of law. In Selvaraj v. State of Karnataka (2015) 10 SCC 230 : [2015] 9 S.C.R. 381 and Sanjeev v. State of H.P. (2022) 6 SCC 294. (Para 25-26) – Setting aside an order of acquittal, which signifies a stronger presumption of innocence, on a mere change of opinion is not permissible. A low standard for turning an acquittal into conviction would be fraught with the danger of failure of justice. (Para 34)

Criminal Trial – In normal circumstances, where a testimony is duly explained and inspires confidence, the Court is not expected to reject the testimony of an interested witness, however, when the testimony is full of contradictions and fails to match evenly with the supporting evidence (the wound certificate, for instance), a Court is bound to sift and weigh the evidence to test its true weight and credibility. (Para 33)

Criminal Trial – Circumstantial Evidence – “Panchsheel” or five principles of circumstantial evidence -the following conditions must be fulfilled before a case against an accused can be said to be fully established: (1) the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established. It may be noted here that this Court indicated that the circumstances concerned “must or should” and not “may be” established. There is not only a grammatical but a legal distinction between “may be proved” and “must be or should be proved” as was held by this Court in Shivaji Sahabrao Bobade v. State of Maharashtra [(1973) 2 SCC 793] where the observations were made: “Certainly, it is a primary principle that the accused must be and not merely may be guilty before a court can convict and the mental distance between ‘may be’ and ‘must be’ is long and divides vague conjectures from sure conclusions.” (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.”- Referred to Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra (1984) 4 SCC 116: [1985] 1 S.C.R. 88. (Para 37-38)

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