Supreme Court acquits accused of murder

The Supreme Court observed that the technique of superposition of the skull for the identification of the corpse cannot be considered infallible.

When the overlay report is not supported by any other reliable medical evidence such as a DNA report or an autopsy report, it would be very risky to convict the accused on believing the identification of the victim’s corpse through the overlay test .the bench CJI UU Lalit and Bela M. Trivedi observed.

S. Kaleeswaran and John [email protected] along with the other three defendants were convicted by the trial court in a murder case. According to the prosecution, all of the defendants in connection with the plot hatched by them murdered a taxi driver, John Thomas. The Madras High Court rejected their appeals.

On appeal to the Apex Court, one of the arguments raised was that the identity of the dead body had also not been duly proven.

The bench noted that the body, when found, was in a highly decomposed condition and that the skeletal remains were found almost 5 months after the date of the incident of the missing deceased. Identification was therefore made by having the skull overlay test done by a forensic expert, the court noted.

“In Pattu Rajan v. State of Tamil Nadu4, this Court explained that although superimposed identification of the deceased is an acceptable piece of opinion evidence, courts generally do not rely on opinion evidence as only incriminating circumstances, given its fallibility, and the overlay technique cannot be considered infallible.In this case, since the overlay report was not supported by any other reliable medical evidence such as a DNA report or an autopsy report, it would be very risky to convict the accused believing the identification of the dead body of the victim by the overlay test. It is true that in the case based on circumstantial evidence, if the whole chain is duly proven by convincing evidence, the conviction could be registered even if the corpus is not found, but when according to the case of the prosecution, the body of the victim was discovered at the place indicated by the accused, it is imperative on the part of the prosecution to prove that the corpse or skeleton found at the request of the accused was indeed that of the victim and of no one else.”

Reassessing other evidence in the case, the panel found that the circumstances relied on by the prosecution did not complete the chain to dispel the assumption of innocence of the accused. The Court therefore acquitted them by quashing the concurrent conviction.

Case details

S. Kaleeswaran versus State | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 903 | CrA 160 DE 2017 | November 3, 2022 | CJI UU Lalit and Bela M. Trivedi

Advice

For the caller(s): Ms. NS Nappinai, Adv. Mr. Asaithambi MSM, Adv. MV Balaji, Adv. Mr. Atul Sharma, Adv. MC Kannan, Adv. Mr. Nizamuddin, Adv. Mr. Rakesh K. Sharma, AOR Mr. CB Gururaj, Adv. Mr. Animesh Dubey, Adv. Mr. Saleem Gul, Adv. Dr. Nanda Kishore, AOR

For the respondent(s): Dr. Joseph Aristotle S., AOR Ms. Nupur Sharma, Adv. Mr. Shobhit Dwivedi, Adv. Mr. Sanjeev Kr. Mahara, Adv. Ms. Vaidehi Rastogi, Adv.

Summaries

Criminal trial – Technique of overlapping skulls – Although superimposed identification of the deceased is an acceptable piece of opinion evidence, courts generally do not rely on opinion evidence as the sole incriminating circumstance, given its fallibility, and the superimposition technique does not can be considered infallible – When the overlay report is not supported by any other reliable medical evidence such as a DNA report or a post-mortem report, it would be very risky to convict the accused on believing the identification of the victim’s corpse through the overlay test – When, in accordance with the In case of prosecution, the victim’s corpse has been discovered in the place indicated by the accused, it is imperative on the part of the public prosecutor to prove that the corpse or skeleton found at the request of the accused was that of the victim and no one else (paragraph 13)

Criminal trial – Extrajudicial confession – When the extrajudicial confession is not duly proven, does not inspire confidence or is not corroborated by any other reliable evidence, the conviction cannot be based solely on such a weak piece of evidence. (Paragraph 8)

Criminal Trial – Last Seen Theory Set – The failure of the accused, in a case based on circumstantial evidence which included the “theory of last seen together”, to explain under article 313 CPCr the circumstances in which the victim suffered death, does not would also not be grounds for arriving at a compelling conclusion that the accused was involved in the commission of the alleged crime – If there is a considerable gap of time between the persons who saw together and the near time of the crime , the circumstances of the last seen together, even if proven, cannot decisively seal the guilt of the accused. (Paragraphs 11 and 12)

Criminal trial – Mobile – Although in a case of direct evidence, motive is irrelevant, in a case of circumstantial evidence, motive plays an important link to complete the chain of circumstances. (Paragraph 14)

Criminal trial – Circumstantial evidence – The five golden principles set out in Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra (1984) 4 SCC 116 (Para 6)

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