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Case Comment: Shivaji Chintappa Patil v/s State of Maharasthra

This case primarily deals with the aspects of murder and the importance of circumstantial evidence to determine the liability of the accused. As per Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine. This section was primarily brought into consideration under this act along with the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for determining the liability of the accused for the hanging of his wife. Additionally, the Court aimed to decipher the liability in cases of homicidal hanging and suicidal hanging on part of the deceased.

Shivaji Chintappa Patil v State of Maharashtra
Citation: (2021) 5 SCC 626
Date of Judgement: 2nd March 2021
Court: Supreme Court
Case No: Criminal Appeal No 1348 of 2012
Nature of Case: Criminal
Appellant: Shivaji Chintappa Patil
Respondent: State of Maharashtra
Bench: Gavai, BR (J)

Facts
In the present case, the deceased wife Jayshree was married to the accused prior to 9 years before the occurrence of the incident leading to her death, and during the time of her death, they had two children. The appellant in the present case as alleged by the prosecution, was addicted to alcohol and used to beat/physically assault his wife to force her to get money from her mother. On 23rd March 2003 the accused and deceased went to sleep in their house. However, the next day when the accused got a call from his brother (PW 5) to go to the field for harvesting Jowar crop, the accused stated that he won�t be able to come because Jayshree had committed suicide by hanging. His brother further went to the village where the rest of the appellant�s family used to reside and also informed about the death at the local police station.

Based on the information provided by the appellant�s brother, the crime was registered as an offence under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The probable cause of death was also determined to be asphyxia due to strangulation as per the advance death certificate. The case was first filed before the Sessions judge for an offence punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The trial Judge convicted the appellant of the offence and hence an appeal for preferred before the High Court. The High Court dismissed the petition thereby leading to the present appeal before the Supreme Court.

Issue:
  • Whether the appellant in the present case shall be made liable for murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in the absence of circumstantial evidence?

Laws Applicable:
The laws primarily applicable in the present case are as follows:
  1. Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860<
  2. Section 8 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872
  3. Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872
  4. Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973


Analysis

Contentions raised by Defence:

  • The primary contention raised by the counsel for the appellant was that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the death was homicidal. Merely on the basis of circumstantial evidence, the appellant can�t be convicted for commission of murder.
  • The counsel for the appellant relied upon the case of Subramaniam v. State of Tamil Nadu to further contend that unless the burden under Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 has been discharged by the prosecution, there shall be no burden essentially on the defence/accused i.e., there shall be no shift of burden from the prosecution to the accused under such circumstances.
  • Further, it was also contended by the appellant that in cases of circumstantial evidence, the motive of the person charged for commission of the offence plays a significant role, relying upon the case of Babu v. State of Kerala. The prosecution in the present case failed to even establish the motive on part of the accused.
  • Lastly, it was contended that when both the outcomes in a case are possible i.e., acquittal or conviction, the benefit should be given to the accused, based on the ratio laid down in the case of Devi Lal v. State of Rajasthan.

Contentions raised by Prosecution:

  • The prosecution contended that no further interference is needed for verification of the concurrent findings of the Trial Court as well as the High Court. These courts have rightly relied upon the case of State of Rajasthan v. Kashi Ram for convicting the accused of murder.
  • The law with respect to conviction based on circumstantial evidence is based on the ruling of the Court in the case of Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra wherein the Court laid down these five principles:
    1. Circumstances from which the guilt is drawn must be fully established.
    2. Facts so established must be consistent with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused.
    3. Circumstances must be of a conclusive nature and tendency.
    4. There is a need to exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved.
    5. There must be a complete chain of evidence to not leave any reasonable ground for a conclusion which is consistent with the innocence of the accused.
Analysis of the Judgement
The first question to determine in the present case was to infer whether the hanging was suicidal, i.e., carried out by the deceased herself, or was homicidal in nature involving the appellant.

After the interim report had been submitted by the doctor, there was also a post-mortem report which had been submitted that stated the cause of death to be �asphyxia due to strangulation.� In cases of both suicidal as well as homicidal hanging, there are going to be marks above the ear.

In such cases, generally, if the suicide had been homicidal in nature, there would have been some form of bodily resistance on the part of deceased person, suggesting any form of violence or struggle. Yet, in the present case, there were no marks suggesting any form of violence by any other third party. As a result, the Supreme Court came to a conclusion following this chain of events that the hanging was not homicidal in nature.

The second question was with respect to the applicability of Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. As per Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 when any fact is especially within the knowledge of any person, the burden of proving that fact is upon him. However, just by being the husband, this knowledge of the fact cannot be directly presumed. In the case of Gargi v. State of Haryana[ix], the Court held that a mere companionship of the deceased wife and the accused can�t establish the presumption of guilt on the part of the husband to kill his wife.

Further, even in the case of Sawal Das v. State of Bihar[x], the Court had stated that neither the application of Sections 103 and 106 of the Indian Evidence Act can absolve the prosecution from performing their duty of proving the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. Only then can the burden of proof be shifted towards the accused. Hence, the Supreme Court stated that neither Section 103 nor Section 106 is said to operate directly against either of the spouses in case of murder of the other even though they are under the same roof or the person was the last individual seen with the deceased. Further, as the prosecution also failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the death was homicidal, the conviction should not sustain based on these reasons.

The third aspect brought before the Court for its consideration was whether the appellant should be made liable in case of failure to give a proper explanation through a statement as per Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. It is a well-settled principle of law that any false explanation can also be used as additional circumstantial evidence but only when the prosecution first proves that the existing chain of circumstances leads to no other conclusions than the guilt of the accused.

Further, even when heavy reliance has been placed upon circumstantial evidence, motive plays an important role in completing the chain. The prosecution in present case aimed to prove the motive on part of the appellant as he used to torture his wife in different ways for obtaining money from her mother. However, the Court decided not to rely on any form of uncorroborated evidence as prior to the incident as well, the appellant and deceased were staying together at the same lace for roughly 4 days, thereby signifying cordial relations. Even the District Court hadn�t directly admitted the evidence.

Since motive plays a vital role for the admissibility of the circumstantial evidence, the prosecution failed to prove it beyond reasonable doubt. As a result, the link to complete the chain of circumstances is totally absent in the present case. The Supreme Court here also referred to the Kashi Ram case to further prove that non-explanation under Section 313 of CrPC was only used as an additional link to strengthen the findings and not as a link to complete the chain whereas in the present case to complete the chain circumstantial evidence was being used by prosecution which is completely unjustified.

Conclusion
The Supreme Court in present case allowed the appeal since the prosecution in the present case failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the suicide committed by the deceased was homicidal in nature and involved the appellant. Further, they were also unable to establish a particular chain of events leading to no other conclusion than the guilt of the accused. As a result, the benefit of doubt was given to the accused in the present case because of the lack of any direct evidence and circumstantial evidence not leading to a conclusion of the overall guilt of the accused.

End-Notes:
  1. Section 302, Indian Penal Code, No 45 of 1860
  2. Section 8, Indian Evidence Act, No 1 of 1872
  3. Section 106, Indian Evidence Act, No 1 of 1872
  4. Section 313, Code of Criminal Procedure, No 2 of 1974
  5. Subramaniam v State of Tamil Nadu, (2019) 14 SCC 415
  6. Babu v State of Kerala, (2010) 9 SCC 189
  7. Devi Lal v. State of Rajasthan (2019) 19 SCC 447
  8. State of Rajasthan v. Kashi Ram (2006) 12 SCC 254
  9. Gargi v. State of Haryana (2019) 9 SCC 738
  10. Sawal Das v. State of Bihar, (1974) 4 SCC 193

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