SC: Discrepancy in Evidence leads to Acquittal of Accused


November 14, 2017

State of Uttarakhand v. Jarnail Singh

Date of Judgment: November 13, 2017

Factual Matrix in the case: In this case an appeal has been preferred by the State against High Court’s order whereby the High Court had set aside the order of conviction passed by the Trial Court against the Respondent. The Respondent in case had been convicted under Section 307 of IPC (Indian Penal Code) and Section 25 (1-A) of the Arms Act, 1959.

The State in its appeal contended that the High Court erred in reversing Trial Court’s judgment holding the accused guilty of offences under the relevant charges in the case. The State further contended that discrepancies if any in investigation conducted against the accused were technical in nature and did not materially affect the prosecution case.  Respondent in the case submitted that infirmities, noticed by the High Court in prosecution case for reversing the judgment of the Session Court cannot be faulted with and being material in nature deserve to be upheld by this Court as was rightly done by the High Court.

Bench’s Verdict: Supreme Court in the case dismissed the Appeal and made following observations in the case:

  • That the reasoning and the conclusion of the High Court in acquitting the respondent of the charges under Section 307 IPC and Section 25 (1-A) of the Arms Act, 1959 appears to be just and proper and hence it does not call for any interference by this Court.
  • The Court also pointed out inter alia some glaring discrepancies in the investigation and Trial Court’s order. For instance, the parties involved in the case namely, Complainant-brother of victim who was eye-witness in his application did not mention the accused’s name. Second, according to the prosecution, the weapon used in commission of offence was recovered from the pocket of the accused the next day and it looked improbable as to why would the accused keep the pistol all along in his pocket after the incident for such a long time and roam all over
  • That the aforesaid infirmities were, therefore, rightly noticed and relied on by the High Court for reversing the judgment of the Session Court after appreciating the evidence.
  • That the infirmities were neither irrelevant nor in any way insignificant or technical in nature as compared only to the ocular version of the witnesses. That prosecution should have taken care of some of the infirmities noticed by the High Court and appropriate steps should have been taken before filing of the charge-sheet to overcome them.
  • That the benefit of such infirmities was, accordingly, rightly given to the respondent by the High Court.
  • That when the High Court while reversing the decision of the Session Court acquits the accused and assigns reasons by appreciating the entire evidence in support of the acquittal, then this Court would not be inclined to interfere in the order of acquittal.
  • In our view, it is necessary for the High Court while hearing the appeal arising out of the order of conviction to appreciate the entire evidence and then come to its conclusion to affirm or reverse the order.

Discrepancies in Investigation

This recent case at hand gives us an opportunity to shed some light on the concept of discrepancies in criminal investigations which rule out the case of prosecution. The Courts have time and again been confronted with the issue as to what category of discrepancies.

The Courts have time and again in this context reiterated that overmuch importance cannot be attached to minor discrepancies[1] and discrepancies, contradictions in narrations and embellishments in inessential parts cannot militate against the veracity of the core of the testimony provided there is the impress of truth and conformity to probability in the substantial fabric of testimony delivered[2].

Difference between normal and material discrepancies

Normal discrepancies in evidence are those which are due to normal errors of observation, normal errors of memory due to lapse of time, due to mental disposition such as shock and horror at the time of occurrence and those are always there however honest and truthful a witness may be. Material discrepancies are those which are not normal, and not expected of a normal person. Courts have to label the category to which a discrepancy may be categorized. While normal discrepancies do not corrode the credibility of a party’s case, material discrepancies do so[3].

[1] Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v. State of Gujrat, 1983 AIR 753

[2] Shivaji Sahabrao Bobade v. State of Maharashtra, 1973 AIR 2622

[3] Krishna Mochi & Ors. State of Bihar, (2002) 6 SCC 81)