If dead body of woman is found in matrimonial home, there is burden on the inmates of the house to give cogent explanation as to how the crime was committed: SC

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Jayantilal Verma v. State of Madhya Pradesh (now Chattisgarh)

Criminal Appeal No. 590 of 2015 decided on 19.11.2020

Bench: Sanjay Kishan Kaul., Hrishikesh Roy, JJ.

Facts: The deceased returned to her maternal home on the account of alleged harassment at the hands of her in-laws. For reconciliation, she went back to her matrimonial home. Few days later she was found dead on a cot in her matrimonial home located in Madhya Pradesh (now Chhattisgarh).

A post mortem was conducted on the body disclosing the cause of death to be was asphyxia due to strangulation, and the nature of death was possibly homicidal. FIR came on arraying the appellant herein, his father and mother as accused for offences punishable under Sections 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘IPC’). The expert opinion of the doctors in the post-mortem report were also relied upon. The statements of the prosecution witnesses were relied on to at the trial court level. However, many witnesses turned hostile later and the starwitness altered his statement under Section 313 Cr.P.C without explaining the reason for the alteration.

The Sessions Court held all the three accused persons guilty of offences punishable under Section 302 of the IPC. An appeal was preferred before the High Court, which concluded that there was no legally admissible evidence to convict the mother-in-law of the deceased, and hence she was acquitted. However, the conviction of the other appellants was upheld by the High Court. The appellants therefore filed the present appeal.

Issue: Whether the circumstantial evidence present in the case entirely proved the guilt of the accused and whether it was conclusive in nature or not?

Held: The circumstantial evidence was examined closely by the Court, as that could be the only basis of conviction, and it was found that there was a complete chain to prove the guilt of the accused. In consideration of the evidence led by the prosecution and considering the concurrent findings by the two courts qua the appellant herein, the court found no reason to interfere with the judgment of the courts below.

Given the fact that the statement of the prosecution was not proved or altered at a later stage, the court held that the statement of prosecution witness was consistent and cogent except to the extent that in the earlier statement he had not mentioned the factum of the death being attributed to snakebite. However, that itself would not nullify the remaining part of his testimony. In fact, the said witness did not back out from the statement, but could not state the reason why the police did not record it in the FIR though it was mentioned.

The court also relied on the opinion of the doctor stating that the cause of death to be asphyxia due to strangulation. Thereafter, he has stated that nature may be homicidal. This was so stated because asphyxia being the cause of death, the doctor himself could not have conclusively said whether it was homicidal or suicidal. It was also voluntarily opined, that there had to be a minimum of five minutes of forceful pulling to cause the death.

Issue:  Whether there would be a corresponding a burden on the inmates of the house to give cogent explanation as to how the crime was committed or not?

Held: The Court held that there is burden on the inmates of the house to give cogent explanation as to how the crime was committed since  the death was caused and body was found in the precincts of the house of the appellant herein where there were only family members staying. The Supreme Court confirming the findings of High Court said that the location of the house and the surrounding buildings was such that there was no possibility of somebody from outside coming and strangulating the deceased and that too without any commotion being caused or any valuable/jewellery missing.

With a factual situation where the appellant herein, as a husband is alleged to have caused the death of his wife by strangulation. The fact that the family members were in the home some time before is also quite obvious. Since the incident had taken place inside the privacy of the house, the onus was on the persons residing in the house, to give an explanation. In such situations, it was noted that it is difficult for the prosecution to lead any direct evidence to establish the guilt of the accused. No explanation has been given as to how the wife could have received the injuries. The appellant herein was under an obligation to give a plausible explanation regarding the cause of the death in the statement recorded under Section 313 of the Cr.P.C. and mere denial could not be the answer in such a situation


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