Admission of guilt won’t stand if altered charges are slapped: Kerala High Court

The petitioner alleged that since he was illiterate in the Malayalam language, he was told by the police to plead guilty before the magistrate and he had abided by the same.
Kerala High Court.
Kerala High Court.File photo

KOCHI: The Kerala High Court on Thursday clarified that if an accused admits guilt to a particular offence, that admission cannot automatically apply to new offences invoked upon alteration of charges. The court made it clear while considering the petition of Bichitra Mohanty, who hails from Orissa.

The petitioner was involved in an accident around 7.30 pm on January 3, 2022, when the motorcycle he was riding collided with a scooter while overtaking, causing serious injuries to the rider of the scooter.

Subsequently, he was booked for rash and negligent driving under Sections 279 (rash or negligent driving) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of IPC. The petitioner alleged that since he was illiterate in Malayalam language, he was told by the police to plead guilty before the magistrate, and he abided by the said advice and pleaded guilty on October 10, 2022, without realising the implication. The magistrate imposed a fine of Rs 1,000 for each of the offences.

However, after the case was disposed of based on the plea of guilt, the injured allegedly succumbed to his injuries, and therefore, the case was altered to Section 304A (causing death by negligence) of IPC and the petitioner was served with a summons intimating him that the offence under sections 279 and 338 of IPC has been altered to Section 304A of the IPC. According to the petitioner, at the time when he pleaded guilty, the offence alleged against him was only under sections 279 and 338 of IPC and now, since he is facing charges for the offence under Section 304A IPC, he ought to be permitted to backtrack from the plea of guilt and contest the case on merits.

The petitioner contended that he pleaded guilty without properly understanding the question put forward by the magistrate and that since the charge has now been altered to Section 304A IPC due to the subsequent death of the injured, the judgment of the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court, Kalamassery, in 2022 ought to be set aside and he must be permitted to contest the case based on merits.

Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas observed that in this case, the petitioner, involved in a motor accident, had pleaded guilty to the offences under Sections 279 and 338 IPC and not under Section 304A IPC. However, if the plea of guilt remains, the petitioner’s defence could be prejudiced since the charge has been altered to Section 304A IPC.

The court referred Raseen Babu v. State of Kerala in which the court had provided a set of guidelines to be complied with before the court could act upon a plea of guilt. “If the plea of guilt made at a time when the offence charged was only under sections 279 and 338 IPC is allowed to remain, despite the charge being altered, the petitioner’s rights to a fair trial may get affected. Such a procedure will be unjust and unfair,” the court observed.

The court set aside the plea of guilt made by the petitioner and stated that he is entitled to contest on merits without referring to the previous plea of guilt.

Defence could be prejudiced: Judge

Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas observed that in this case, the petitioner, involved in a motor accident, had pleaded guilty to the offences under Sections 279 and 338 IPC and not under Section 304A IPC. However, if the plea of guilt remains, the petitioner’s defence could be prejudiced since the charge has been altered to Section 304A IPC.

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