24 June 2024


Supreme Court

Rajesh Dhiman vs The State Of Himachal Pradesh




Mere deficiencies in investigation can't be basis for concluding bias by Investigating Officer

Present Criminal Appeals have been preferred against a common judgment of the High Court by which the appellants’ acquittal under Section 20 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (“NDPS Act”) was reversed and a sentence of ten years rigorous imprisonment and fine of Rs 1,00,000 each was awarded.

Learned counsel for the Appellants vehemently contended that, the High Court ought not to have reversed the well-merited acquittal as two distinct versions of the same incident had emerged from the evidence on record, and thus the one beneficial to the Appellants ought to be adopted.

The Appellants’ claim of bias stems from the purported delays, non-compliance of statutory mandates and non-examination of independent witness. In effect, the Appellants are seeking to circuitously use the very same arguments which have individually been held by the High Court to be factually incorrect or legally irrelevant. Although in some cases, certain actions (or lack thereof) by the Investigating Officer might indicate bias; but mere deficiencies in investigation or chinks in the prosecution case can’t be the sole basis for concluding bias. The Appellants have at no stage claimed that, there existed any enmity or other motive for the police to falsely implicate them and let the real culprits walk free. Further, such a huge quantity of charas could not have been planted against the appellants by the police on its own.

The contention of the Appellants that they are entitled to be acquitted on the ground of there being two varying versions of the same incident does not carry any weight. We may firstly clarify that the expression “reasonable doubt” is a well-defined connotation. It refers to the degree of certainty required of a court before it can make a legally valid determination of the guilt of an accused. These words are inbuilt measures to ensure that innocence is to be presumed unless the court finds no reasonable doubt of the guilt of the person charged. Reasonable doubt does not mean that proof be so clear that no possibility of error exists. In other words, the evidence must only be so conclusive that all reasonable doubts are removed from the mind of an ordinary person.

As correctly appreciated by the High Court in detail, non¬ examination of independent witnesses would not ipso facto entitle one to seek acquittal. Though a heighted standard of care is imposed on the court in such instances but there is nothing to suggest that the High Court was not cognizant of this duty. Rather, the consequence of upholding the trial Court’s reasoning would amount to compulsory examination of each and every witness attached to the formation of a document. The High Court has rightly relied upon the testimonies of the government officials having found them to be impeccable after detailed re¬ appreciation of the entire evidence.

There is no gainsaid that, High Courts are well within their power to reverse an acquittal and award an appropriate sentence; though they cautiously exercise such powers in practice. Illustratively, a few permissible reasons which would necessitate such interference by the High Court include patent errors of law, grave miscarriage of justice, or perverse findings of fact.

The trial Court appreciated facts in a mechanical manner and dismissed the prosecution case based on a mis¬ interpretation of law, particularly qua satisfying the burden of proof. Hence, there were more than enough reasons for the High Court to interfere with the acquittal and arrive at a different finding. The Appellants’ claim that the High Court erred in not considering non-compliance with Section 50 of the NDPS Act at the stage of appeal, is also premised upon a mistaken understanding of the law.

As held in State of Himachal Pradesh v. Pawan Kumar, the safeguards for search of a person would not extend to his bag or other article being carried by them. Given how the narcotics have been discovered from a backpack, as per both the prosecution and defence versions, there arises no need to examine compliance with Section 50 of NDPS Act. Appeals dismissed.

Tags : Acquittal Reversal Legality

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