Delhi HC Acquits Man of Unsound Mind who Murdered his Wife

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November 27,2017

X v. State of NCT of Delhi

Date of Judgment: November 20, 2017

In this recent verdict, the Delhi High Court acquitted a man accused for murder of his wife. The man was acquitted by the Court on the ground that at the time of committing the offence the accused was suffering from mental diseases and was a chronic mental patient.

In the case, the Appellant had been convicted under Section 302 of IPC by the Karkardooma Court (Trial Court) for committing the murder of his wife. The Delhi High Court in appeal accepted the Appellant’s plea of defence of insanity under Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and acquitted him for the offence of murder of his wife.

According to Section 84 of IPC nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.

Factual Matrix in the case

In the case, the accused had murdered his wife at their home in 2011. The Appellant in the case claimed that he was not working since 15 years and had also been suffering mental disease for the last 15 years and even in judicial custody was undergoing treatment for the same. The witnesses in the case including the Appellant’s brother, sister and his attendant while in judicial custody also stated that the Appellant was a patient of mental disease.

Other essential fact of the case states that almost one month prior to the occurence of the impugned offence, the deceased gave a written complaint to the police wherein she stated that the Appellant was mentally unstable and was undergoing treatment at RML Hospital and IHBAS (Institute of Human Behavior and Applied Sciences) for the last 15 years. She further stated therein that for the last 5 months, the Appellant was receiving treatment at IHBAS and that he kept beating people at home and that there existed an imminent threat that he may harm her and any of the family members.

In the case, the Trial Court in 2015 convicted the appellant for offence under Section 302 of IPC .The Trial Court rejected Appellant’s defense under by observing that the mere fact that the Appellant had been occasionally subject to insane delusions was “per se insufficient to bring his case within the exemption” under Section 84 of IPC.

Delhi High Court’s Observations and Order

The Delhi High Court in view of the facts and circumstances and evidence adduced in the case acquitted the Appellant and set aside the Trial Court’s order. The Court in the case made some noteworthy observations on defense available under Section 84 of IPC which have been enumerated below:

Mens rea- an essential aspect of crime- The Court in the case took note of the legal proposition that mens rea is an essential element in a crime. The Court stated that it contemplates a situation where the person committing the crime may not at the time of such commission of crime, be aware of what he is doing. The Court in this context made reference to Supreme Court’s order in the case of State of Rajasthan v. Shera Ram @ Vishnu Datta1, wherein the rationale behind the defence under Section 84 of the IPC was explained by the Supreme Court in the following words:

“To commit a criminal offence, mens rea is generally taken to be an essential element of crime. It is said furiosi nulla voluntus est. In other words, a person who is suffering from a mental disorder cannot be said to have committed a crime as he does not know what he is doing. For committing a crime, the intention and act both are taken to be the constituents of the crime, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. Every normal and sane human being is expected to possess some degree of reason to be responsible for his/her conduct and acts unless contrary is proved. But a person of unsound mind or a person suffering from mental disorder cannot be said to possess this basic norm of human behavior.”

Unsoundness of mind under Section 84- That the expression used in Section 84 is ‘unsoundness of mind’ and not ‘insanity’. This appears to be for good reason since the expression ‘insanity’ apart from being stigmatic does not account for the varying degrees of unsoundness of the mind, all of which may not qualify for the defence under Section 84 of IPC.

The Delhi High Court in the case took note of the fact that one month prior to the occurrence, the deceased had lodged complaint with the police wherein she expressed apprehension that the Appellant had been behaving strangely due to his mental illness and that he kept beating people at home and that there existed an imminent threat that he may harm her and any of the family members. The deceased also stated that the appellant had been undergoing treatment for his mental disease. However, the complaint was closed later on compromise entered into by the deceased with accused.

That the prosecution witnesses in the case including brother and sister of the Appellant stated that the Appellant was receiving treatment for his mental illness and had undergone treatment from RML Hospital and IHBAS.

The Court also took into consideration documentary evidence in the case including medical record of IHBAS beginning which indicated that the Appellant was suffering from chronic depression.

Role of IO in such cases- The Court in the case pointed at loopholes in the investigation conducted by the Investigation Officer (IO) in the case and observed that the IO, despite learning of the fact that the Appellant was suffering mental depression for long, did not probe that angle further. In this context, the Court made reference to Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Sidhapal Kamala Yadav v. State of Maharashtra2, wherein it was opined that “the onus of providing unsoundness of mind is on the accused. But where during the investigation previous history of insanity is revealed, it is the duty of an honest investigator to subject the accused to a medical examination and place that evidence before the Court and if this is not done, it creates a serious infirmity in the prosecution case and the benefit of doubt has to be given to the accused.”

Role of Courts in such cases- The Delhi High Court in the case also took into account the Trial Court’s order in the case and threw light on the role of Court in such cases. The Court observed that the duty of the Court is to evaluate the conduct of the accused before, at the time of and soon after the crime and then return a finding of fact, whether the accused was of such unsound mind that by reason of unsoundness he was incapable of knowing the nature of the act done or incapable of knowing that the act was wrong or contrary to law.

Medical literature relating to Appellant’s Mental Disease- The Court in the case also extensively analysed medical literature pertaining to biopolar disorder and commission of crimes due to such disturbed mental status and that delusions stemming from these disorders can lead the individuals concerned to become violent, for example if they believe that the lives of their families have become intolerable or where they believe that no one must stand in the way of their important plans. The mental disorder can contribute directly to serious violence, e.g. multiple homicide of loved family members.

The Delhi High Court finally observed that the endeavour of the criminal justice system is to ensure that no crime goes unpunished, and there may be no doubt as to who committed the crime, the requirement of justice is also for the Court, when faced in a rare case with a plea of the accused under Section 84 of IPC to examine and evaluate “the conduct of the accused before, at the time of and soon after the crime” and determine whether by reason of unsoundness the accused was “incapable of knowing the nature of the act done or incapable of knowing that the act was wrong or contrary to law.”

The Delhi High Court in the case also issued Consequential directions

That in cases as the present one the plea of unsoundness of mind of the Appellant at the time of commission of the crime is accepted, the needs of justice would be subserved if following his release the Appellant, given his condition, continues to receive treatment till such time he is in a position to be held responsible for himself.

Other important authorities on Section 84 of IPC

Difference between medical insanity and legal insanity– In the case of Hari Singh Gond v. State of Madhya Pradesh3, the Supreme Court observed that Section 84 lays down the legal test of responsibility in cases of alleged unsoundness of mind. There is no definition of ‘unsoundness of mind’ in IPC. The courts have, however, mainly treated this expression as equivalent to insanity. But the term ‘insanity’ itself has no precise definition. It is a term used to describe varying degrees of mental disorder. So, every person, who is mentally diseased, is not ipso facto exempted from criminal responsibility. A distinction is to be made between legal insanity and medical insanity. A court is concerned with legal insanity, and not with medical insanity.”

In the case of Surendra Mishra v. State of Jharkhand4, it was pointed out that “every person who is suffering from mental disease is not ipso facto exempted from criminal liability.” Further in the case of Shrikant Anandrao Bhosale v. State of Maharashtra5, the Supreme Court while determining an offence under Section 84 of IPC opined that “it is the totality of the circumstances seen in the light of the evidence on record” which would prove that the Appellant in that case was suffering from the said condition. It was added: “The unsoundness of mind before and after the incident is a relevant fact.”

1(2012) 1 SCC 602

2(2009) 1 SCC 124

3(2008) 16 SCC 109

4(2011) 11 SCC 495

5(2002) 7 SCC 748