HYDERABAD: There is a scope that the Appellate Courts may acquit convicted criminals of all charges by granting them a ‘benefit of the doubt’ if the prosecution fails to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused were guilty of the offences. They will be set at liberty unless their presence is required in connection with any other offence.
In a case before the Supreme Court, the appellants (convicted) have challenged the High Court order affirming the view taken by the trial court which had convicted and sentenced all the accused with life imprisonment.
As for the case, an FIR was lodged with the police station concerned pursuant to information received from an informant that his cousin was assaulted fatally. The informant had named certain persons to be responsible for the crime from about 30 persons who had covered their faces and armed with sticks, gathered outside the house of the deceased. Seven of them had first entered the house and dragged him out to the courtyard and attacked him.
During the course of the investigation, names of 17 persons surfaced as suspects, including the appellants. After hearing the case, the trial court found that the prosecution had established its case and found the 17 accused guilty of all the offences with which they were charged and sentenced them to life imprisonment. When it was challenged in the HC, the latter confirmed the sentence awarded by the trial court. Aggrieved with the same, the present appeal was filed before the Apex Court.
The counsel appearing for the appellants pointed out that one of the prosecution witnesses, who was a cousin of the deceased, has not named the appellants in his first report. But later named them in his examination in the court, but did not attribute any specific overt act to them. Besides, another prosecution witness, widow of the deceased, did not name the appellants in her testimony. Even the 11-year-old son of the deceased also did name the appellants as part of the mob which had gathered outside the house and was responsible for the assault on the deceased. On the other hand, the counsel for the State submitted that the material on record clearly pointed towards the involvement of the appellants.
After hearing both sides, the apex court said that in a crime committed by an unlawful assembly by the principal of vicarious liability, every member of the unlawful assembly would be guilty of the offence, even if he himself had not done the actual act. But the facts must indicate with clarity that such a person was, in fact, a member of the assembly. Besides, it is crucial to note that the cousin of the deceased had not named any of the appellants in his FIR whereas in his statement in court the names of the appellants did occur. Even then he did not attribute any overt act to the appellants. Hence, the question arises as to the involvement of the appellants in the crime, SC observed.
The Supreme Court said that after considering all the factual aspects, it was not established beyond a reasonable doubt that the appellants were guilty of the offences with which they were tried. Therefore, the court grants the benefit of the doubt to the appellants. The Court allowed the appeals by acquitting the appellants of all the charges levelled against them.