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The Anatomy Of Criminal Investigations In India

In India, the investigation of crimes is carried out as per the procedure outlined in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). Section 2(h) of the CrPC defines Investigation as "includes all the proceedings under this Code for the collection of evidence conducted by a police officer or by any person (other than a Magistrate) who is authorised by a Magistrate in this behalf"[1] Criminal investigation entails the collection and assessment of evidence to determine potential suspects and establish a reasonable basis for suspicion.[2]

The process of investigation begins when an officer in charge of a police station receives information about the occurrence of a crime. This information is then recorded under Section 154 of the CrPC. If, based on the received information or any other sources, the officer in charge has grounds to suspect that a crime has been committed, either he or another subordinate officer assigned by him must go to the scene to examine the details and circumstances of the case. If deemed necessary, they also take appropriate actions to uncover and apprehend the perpetrator.

Section 156 of the CrPC confers the investigating officer (IO) with the power to carry out inquiries into cognizable cases within their jurisdiction without the requirement of a Magistrate's order.[3] However, in cases involving non-cognizable offences, police officers do not have the power to investigate without a warrant. Instead, they must obtain a warrant under Section 155(2). The various stages and methods of conducting the investigation are encompassed in Sections 156 - 173 under Chapter XII of the CrPC, which deals with "information to the police and their powers to investigate".

Investigation plays a vital role in the criminal justice process by establishing the groundwork for prosecuting individuals accused of crimes and uncovering the truth behind alleged offences.[4] The key objectives of investigation include preventing and deterring crime, discovering the commission of criminal acts, identifying and capturing perpetrators, assisting in the prosecution of suspects, recovering stolen assets, and maintaining public trust in law enforcement agencies.[5]

In the case of H.N. Rishbud v. State of Delhi[6], the Supreme Court enumerated the components of investigation as follows: "Under the Code investigation consists generally of the following steps:
  • Proceeding to the spot,
  • Ascertainment of the facts and circumstances of the case,
  • Discovery and arrest of the suspected offender,
  • Collection of evidence relating to the commission of the offence which may consist of:
    1. the examination of various persons (including the accused) and the reduction of their statements into writing, if the officer thinks fit,
    2. the search of places of seizure of things considered necessary for the investigation and to be produced at the trial,
  • Formation of the opinion as to whether on the material collected there is a case to place the accused before a Magistrate for trial and if so taking the necessary steps for the same by the filing of a charge-sheet under section 173.[7]

Distinction between Cognizable Offences and Non-Cognizable Offences

To understand the process of investigation, it is important to distinguish between cognizable offences and non-cognizable offences as the process of investigation for cognizable offences and non-cognizable offences vary considerably. At the beginning of an investigation, the offences are categorised as either cognizable or non-cognizable. Subsequently, based on the nature of the crime, the investigation progresses accordingly. The point of distinction between the two categories of offences is the gravity of the crime.

Cognizable offences are defined under section 2(c) of the CrPC and refer to offences wherein the police can apprehend a suspect without an arrest warrant. Police are empowered to suo moto investigate cognizable cases only. These offences are grave in nature, affecting society as a whole and carrying a punishment of more than 3 years, with or without a fine. Examples of such crimes include dowry, murder, rape, etc. On the other hand, non-cognizable offences, defined in section 2(i) of the CrPC, are less severe and punishable with less than 3 years, with or without a fine.

For non-cognizable offences, an arrest warrant is necessary to make an arrest. Any information obtained regarding a non-cognizable offence should be transmitted to the Magistrate. A police officer does not have the authority to investigate such a crime without explicit permission from a duly empowered Magistrate.[8] In situations where a case encompasses both cognizable and non-cognizable crimes, it will be treated as a case involving a cognizable offence. [9]

The Procedures Involved At Various Stages Of Investigation Are Elucidated Hereunder:

  1. First Information Report (FIR): The process of investigation of a crime commences with the filing of an FIR. In Subhas Aggarwal v. State of Bihar[10], it was stated that "First Information Report (FIR) at the initial stage must disclose some cognizable offence so that the police may proceed with the investigation of the case, as it is prerogative of the police to investigate the same." Section 154 of the CrPC addresses the circumstances under which information received is considered a cognizable offence. The informant must provide the information in writing to the officer in charge of a police station or have it transcribed by said officer.[11] Further, the written document must be read aloud to the informant and signed. This is known as the FIR. Section 154 provides that in cases where a woman victim reports a sexual offence, a female police officer must be entrusted with the task of documenting her statement. The police officer has the authority to launch an investigation if there are valid reasons to believe that a recognisable crime has occurred. The FIR contains specific information about the reported offence and sets the investigation in motion.
  2. Collection of Evidence: Section 157 encapsulates the procedure that the police must follow when conducting an investigation to gather evidence. The officer in charge should visit the scene in person to investigate the facts and circumstances, or delegate this task to a subordinate officer.[12] If required, appropriate measures should be taken for the identification and arrest of the suspect. If there is no sufficient basis for initiating an investigation, the officer should refrain from doing so and mention in the report the reasons for not adhering to the requirements of this section and inform the complainant that the case will not be investigated or pursued further. Subsequently, this report should be sent to the Magistrate empowered to take cognizance of the offence. Investigating officers are responsible for gathering various forms of evidence, including physical evidence, witness testimonies, documentary evidence, expert opinions, and forensic reports.
  3. Police Report to Magistrate: A report transmitted by the superior police officer to the Magistrate with a view to enlighten the Magistrate about a case being investigated by the police officer is called a police report.[13] This enables the Magistrate to oversee the investigation and provide instructions if necessary under Section 159 of the CrPC. Under Section 157, the officer in charge must furnish a preliminary report to the Magistrate.
  4. Order of Investigation ordered by Magistrate: Section 159 empowers the Magistrate to order an investigation or conduct a preliminary inquiry if deemed necessary upon receiving the report. The Supreme Court has held in S.N. Sharma v. Bipen Kumar[14] that the Magistrate does not have the authority to put an end to an ongoing investigation once it has commenced.
  5. Attendance of Witnesses: The IO has the authority, as provided in Section 160 of the CrPC, to demand the presence of any individual who possesses knowledge of the facts and details surrounding the caseIn Pakala Narayana Swami v. Emperor[15], it was held that the term 'any person' under Section 160 includes any person who may be possibly not even suspected then but subsequently be accused of the crime.
  6. Examination of Witnesses: Any investigating officer is empowered to interrogate a witness or any person who has information about the facts and circumstances relating to the offence. Section 161 of the CrPC grants the police the power to examine witnesses.[16] The statements of these witnesses hold significant value as they have the potential to prove a person's guilt or innocence. It is expected of individuals under investigation to provide truthful answers to all questions related to the offence. However, they are not obligated to answer truthfully if the response would incriminate them or subject them to any criminal or other charges as guaranteed by the right against self-incrimination[17] enshrined in Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India.
  7. It is pertinent to note that statements recorded under Section 161 are not to be used as evidence in any enquiry or trial. Such statement by the witness can only be used to contradict him/her and not corroborate. However, a dying declaration under Section 32 of the Indian Evidence Act is an exception to this provision and is admissible in court.
  8. Recording Statements and Confessions: Any Magistrate has the authority, as per Section 164, to record any statement or confession made to them during an investigation, regardless of whether they have jurisdiction over the case. However, a police officer who provisionally possesses the powers of a magistrate is not authorised to do so. Before recording the statement, it is the responsibility of the magistrate to notify the individual providing the statement that they are not obligated to do so and that their statements may be used as evidence against them. The Magistrate must ensure that any confession is given willingly.[18]
  9. Search and Seizure: Investigating officers have the authority to carry out searches at the crime scene or other relevant areas so as to seize items that could potentially be used as evidence. Section 165 of the CrPC empowers a police officer to conduct a search of any location if they have reasonable grounds to believe that it contains relevant evidence for the investigation they are authorised to carry out. The issuance of a search warrant is governed by Section 93(1). The officer is required to document the search in a designated diary prescribed by the state government. The police officer must provide a written record of the reasons for the search, specifying the location and the item or items to be searched. After conducting the search, the officer must document their findings and send it to the nearest Magistrate.
  10. Arrest: The prompt arrest of the accused persons in grave offences is necessary for a thorough and effective investigation, which dissuades offenders from engaging in unlawful activities and fosters a sense of tranquillity and security among both the public and the state. If there is substantial evidence indicating a person's involvement in a crime, police have the authority to make an arrest. The provisions and procedures governing arrest are provided from Sections 41 to 60A under Chapter V of the CrPC.
  11. When Investigation cannot be completed within 24 Hours: Section 57 of the CrPC plays a crucial role in the criminal procedure law, stating that a person accused of a crime cannot be arrested and held in custody for more than 24 hours without being presented before a Magistrate.[19] Section 167 prescribes the framework that the police and courts must adhere to when detaining a suspect in custody for investigation purposes. This section is derived from the accused's fundamental right provided by Article 22(2) of the Constitution.[20] In situations where an investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours after the arrest, it is necessary to present the accused before the nearest Judicial Magistrate within 24 hours of the apprehension, excluding any time spent travelling.

    Section 167 confers upon the Magistrate the power to determine whether the accused should be held in police custody or judicial custody while a police investigation is underway, authorising the detention of the suspect in "appropriate custody" as required to enable the investigating agency to conclude their investigation.[21] Furthermore, the section specifies a limited duration (15 days, 90 days, 60 days) for such custody, after which the accused is entitled to default bail. These provisions are vital for safeguarding the accused's fundamental right to personal liberty.
  12. Procedure on completion of Investigation: Once the investigation is completed, the following steps are to be followed: As per Section 169, if there is insufficient proof and no valid reasons to support the decision of sending the accused to the Magistrate, then the police officer must release them upon their execution of a bond. The accused might need to attend a court hearing in front of a judge at a later time. On the contrary, if there is enough evidence and valid reasons, the officer is obligated to transfer the accused to the Magistrate for them to acknowledge the offence. and commit him for trial in case of a non-bailable offence.[22]
  1. Case Diary: Section 172 talks about the case diary, which must be maintained by every investigating officer. The reason underlying this provision is to provide the Magistrate with up-to-date information and daily progress of the case from the investigating officer. The case diary plays a crucial role in monitoring the progress of the investigation and providing a thorough record for use in court proceedings.[23]
  2. Closure Report or Charge Sheet: Under Section 173(2), after the conclusion of the investigation, it is mandatory on the part of the officer in charge of a police station to submit the final report to the Magistrate empowered to take cognizance of the offence.[24] Where no sufficient evidence is discovered, a closure report is submitted whereas where sufficient evidence points to the involvement of the accused, a chargesheet is filed. The final report is popularly known as the Chargesheet or the Challan. Section 173(8) includes a provision for further investigation and a supplementary report.

The criminal investigation process in India, governed by the Code of Criminal Procedure, ensures a meticulous approach to uncovering the truth behind alleged crimes. From the filing of the FIR to the collection of evidence and presentation to the Magistrate, each step is guided by legal protocols. An investigation needs to be conducted meticulously and independently to ensure that the guilty are held accountable and the innocent are protected. It is essential for investigating officers to uphold transparency, equity, and compliance with legal protocols when carrying out investigations, thereby upholding the principles of justice and the rule of law.

  1. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 2 (h).
  2. The editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 'Criminal Investigation' (Britannica, 20 July 1998) accessed 27 December 2023.
  3. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 156.
  4. Takwani, Criminal Procedure (5th edn, LexisNexis 2021).
  5. Peter W Greenwood, Jan M Chaiken, Joan Petersiua, and Unda Prusoff, 'The Criminal Investigation Process Volume III: Observations and Analysis' Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice accessed 27 December 2023.
  6. HN Rishbud v State of Delhi, AIR 1955 SC 196.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 155(2).
  9. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 155(4).
  10. Subhas Aggarwal v State of Bihar, 1989 Cr LJ 1752.
  11. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 154(1).
  12. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 157.
  13. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 158.
  14. SN Sharma v Bipen Kumar, AIR 1970 SC 786.
  15. Pakala Narayana Swami v Emperor, AIR 1939 PC 47.
  16. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 161.
  17. Constitution of India, art 20(3).
  18. Code of Criminal Procedure, s 164.
  19. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 57.
  20. Constitution of India, art 22(2).
  21. Anuj Berry and others, 'Enlarging 'Custody' under Section 167: An Analysis of the Concepts of 'House Arrest' and 'Transit Remand' in Light of the Supreme Court's Judgment in Gautam Navlakha v. National Investigation Agency' (SCC Online, 28 September 2021) accessed 28 December 2023.
  22. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 170.
  23. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 172.
  24. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 173(2).

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