Alister Pareira hit-and-run case

Alister Anthony Pareira vs. State of Maharashtra


As per the prosecution case repair and construction work of the Carter Road, Bandra (West) at the relevant time was being carried out by New India Construction Company. The labourers were engaged by the construction company for executing the works. The temporary sheds (huts) were put up for the residence of labourers on the pavement. In the night of November 11, 2006 and November 12, 2006, the labourers were asleep in front of their huts on the pavement. Between 3.45 to 4.00 a.m., that night, the appellant while driving the car (corolla) bearing Registration No. MH-01-R-580 rashly and negligently with knowledge that people were asleep on footpath rammed the car over the pavement; caused death of seven persons and injuries to eight persons. At the time of incident, the appellant was found to have consumed alcohol. A liquor bottle was recovered from the appellant’s car. On his medical examination, he was found to have 0.112% w/v liquor (ethyl alcohol) in his blood. The appellant was fully familiar with the area being the resident of Carter Road.

The trial court convicted the appellant for the offences punishable under Sections 304A and 337 IPC. The court sentenced him to suffer simple imprisonment of six months with fine of Rs. 5 lakhs for the offence under Section 304A IPC and in default further suffer simple imprisonment of one month and simple imprisonment of 15 days for the offence under Section 337 IPC. Both the sentences were ordered to run concurrently. The High Court set aside the acquittal of the appellant under Section 304 IPC and convicted him for the offences under Section 304 Part II, Section 338 and Section 337 IPC. The High Court sentenced the appellant to undergo rigorous imprisonment for three years for the offence punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC with a fine of Rs. 5 lakhs. On account of offence under Section 338 IPC, the appellant was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a term of one year and for the offence under Section 337 IPC rigorous imprisonment for six months. The High Court noted that fine amount as per the order of the trial court had already been distributed to the families of victims.

The Supreme Court formulated the following four questions for consideration :

(i) Whether indictment on the two charges, namely, the offence punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC and the offence punishable under Section 338 IPC is mutually destructive and legally impermissible? In other words, whether it is permissible to try and convict a person for the offence punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC and the offence punishable under Section 338 IPC for a single act of the same transaction?

(ii) Whether by not charging the appellant of `drunken condition’ and not putting to him the entire incriminating evidence let in by the prosecution, particularly the evidence relating to appellant’s drunken condition, at the time of his examination under Section 313 of the Code, the trial and conviction of the appellant got affected?

(iii) Whether prosecution evidence establishes beyond reasonable doubt the commission of the offences by the appellant under Section 304 Part II, IPC, Section 338 IPC and Section 337 IPC?

(iv) Whether sentence awarded to the appellant by the High Court for the offence punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC requires any modification?

re: question (i)

The Supreme Court observed that like section 304A, sections 279, 336, 337 and 338 IPC are attracted for only the negligent or rash act. The scheme of Sections 279, 304A, 336, 337 and 338 leave no manner of doubt that these offences are punished because of the inherent danger of the acts specified therein irrespective of knowledge or intention to produce the result and irrespective of the result. These sections make punishable the acts themselves which are likely to cause death or injury to human life. The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative the question – whether indictment of an accused under  Section 304 Part II and Section 338 IPC can co-exist in a case of single rash or negligent act. It held that the two charges are not mutually destructive. If the act is done with the knowledge of the dangerous consequences which are likely to follow and if death is caused then not only that the punishment is for the act but also for the resulting homicide and a case may fall within Section 299 or Section 300 depending upon the mental state of the accused viz., as to whether the act was done with one kind of knowledge or the other or the intention. Knowledge is awareness on the part of the person concerned of the consequences of his act of omission or commission indicating his state of mind. There may be knowledge of likely consequences without any intention. Criminal culpability is determined by referring to what a person with reasonable prudence would have known.

Rash or negligent driving on a public road with the knowledge of the dangerous character and the likely effect of the act and resulting in death may fall in the category of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. A person, doing an act of rash or negligent driving, if aware of a risk that a particular  consequence is likely to result and that result occurs, may be held guilty not only of the act but also of the result. As a matter of law – in view of the provisions of the IPC – the cases which fall within last clause of Section 299 but not within clause ‘fourthly’ of Section 300 may cover the cases of rash or negligent act done with the knowledge of the likelihood of its dangerous consequences and may entail punishment under Section 304 Part II IPC. Section 304A IPC takes out of its ambit the cases of death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act amounting to culpable homicide of either description.

A person, responsible for a reckless or rash or negligent act that causes death which he had knowledge as a reasonable man that such act was dangerous enough to lead to some untoward thing and the death was likely to be caused, may be attributed with the knowledge of the consequence and may be fastened with culpability of homicide not amounting to murder and punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC.

The Court observed that there is no incongruity, if simultaneous with the offence under Section 304 Part II, a person who has done an act so rashly or negligently endangering human life or the personal safety of the others and causes grievous hurt to any person is tried for the offence under Section 338 IPC. Thus there is no impediment in law for an offender being charged for the offence under Section 304 Part II IPC and also under Sections 337 and 338 IPC. The two charges under Section 304 Part II IPC and Section 338 IPC can legally co-exist in a case of single rash or negligent act where a rash or negligent act is done with the knowledge of likelihood of its dangerous consequences. It further held that by charging the appellant for the offence under Section 304 Part II IPC and Section 338 IPC no prejudice had been caused to him. The appellant was made fully aware of the charges against him and there was thus no failure of justice.

In a case where negligence or rashness is the cause of death and nothing more, Section 304A may be attracted but where the rash or negligent act is preceded with the knowledge that such act is likely to cause death, Section 304 Part II IPC may be attracted and if such a rash and negligent act is preceded by real intention on the part of the wrong doer to cause death, offence may be punishable under Section 302 IPC.

re: question (ii)

The Supreme Court held that it could not be said that the appellant was not made fully aware of the prosecution evidence that he had driven the car rashly or negligently in a drunken condition. He had full opportunity to say what he wanted to say with regard to the prosecution evidence.

re: question (iii )

The High Court, on consideration of the entire prosecution evidence and having regard to the deficiencies pointed out by the defence, reached the conclusion that (1) the accused at the time of driving the car was under the influence of liquor; (2) he drove the car in drunken condition at a very high speed; and (3) he failed to control the vehicle and the vehicle could not be stopped before it ran over the people sleeping on the pavement. The High Court observed that the accused could not concentrate on driving as he was under the influence of liquor and the vehicle was being driven with loud noise and a tape recorder being played in high volume. The High Court held that the accused had more than 22 feet wide road for driving and there was no occasion for a driver to swing to the left and cover a distance of more than 55 feet; climb over the footpath and run over the persons sleeping on the footpath. The High Court took judicial notice of the fact that in Mumbai people do sleep on pavements. The accused was also aware of the fact that at the place of occurrence people sleep as the accused was resident of that area. The High Court took note of the fact that the accused had admitted the accident and his explanation was that the accident occurred due to mechanical failure and the defect that was developed in the vehicle but found his explanation improbable and unacceptable. The High Court also observed that the factum of high and reckless speed was evident from the brake marks at the site. The speeding car could not be stopped by him instantaneously. In the backdrop of the above findings, the High Court held that the accused could be attributed to have a specific knowledge of the event that happened. The High Court, thus concluded that the accused had knowledge and in any case such knowledge would be attributable to him that his actions were dangerous or wanton enough to cause injuries which may even result into death of persons.

The Supreme Court agreed with the conclusions of the High Court and held that the evidence and materials on record proved beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant can be attributed with knowledge that his act of driving the vehicle at a high speed in the rash or negligent manner was dangerous enough and he knew that one result would very likely be that people who were asleep on the pavement may be hit, should the vehicle go out of control. There is a presumption that a man knows the natural and likely consequences of his acts. Moreover, an act does not become involuntary act simply because its consequences were unforeseen. The cases of negligence or of rashness or dangerous driving do not eliminate the act being voluntary. In the present case, the essential ingredients of Section 304 Part II IPC have been successfully established by the prosecution against the appellant.

Charge under Section 338 IPC against the appellant was held to be clearly established. The trial court as well as the High Court were justified in convicting the appellant for the offence punishable under Section 337 IPC as well.

re: question (iv )

It was argued on behalf of the appellant that having regard to the facts: (i) the appellant has already undergone sentence of two months and has paid Rs. 8,50,000/- by way of fine and compensation; (ii) the appellant is further willing to pay reasonable amount as compensation/fine as may be awarded by this Court; (iii) the appellant was about 20 years of age at the time of incident; and (iv) the appellant lost his father during the pendency of the appeal and presently being the only member to support his family which comprises of mother and unmarried sister, he may be released on probation of good conduct and behavior or the sentence awarded to him be reduced to the period already undergone.

The Supreme Court observed that sentencing is an important task in the matters of crime. One of the prime objectives of the criminal law is imposition of appropriate, adequate, just and proportionate sentence commensurate with the nature and gravity of crime and the manner in which the crime is done. There is no straitjacket formula for sentencing an accused on proof of crime. The courts have evolved certain principles: twin objective of the sentencing policy is deterrence and correction. What sentence would meet the ends of justice depends on the facts and circumstances of each case and the court must keep in mind the gravity of the crime, motive for the crime, nature of the offence and all other attendant circumstances. The principle of proportionality in sentencing a crime doer is well entrenched in criminal jurisprudence. As a matter of law, proportion between crime and punishment bears most relevant influence in determination of sentencing the crime doer. The court has to take into consideration all aspects including social interest and consciousness of the society for award of appropriate sentence.

Coming to the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court held that the prosecution had been successful in bringing home the guilt of the accused under Section 304 Part II IPC which show despicable aggravated offence warranting punishment proportionate to the crime. Seven precious human lives were lost by the act of the accused. The Court further observed that for an offence like this which has been proved against the appellant, sentence of three years awarded by the High Court is too meagre and not adequate but since no appeal has been preferred by the State, the Court refrained from considering the matter for enhancement.

The Supreme Court observed that by letting the appellant away on the sentence already undergone i.e. two months in a case like the present would be travesty of justice and highly unjust, unfair, improper and disproportionate to the gravity of crime. It held that the facts and circumstances of the case did not justify benefit of probation to the appellant for good conduct or for any reduction of sentence. The appeal was thus dismissed.