Santosh Kumar Singh v State through CBI
The deceased, Priyadarshini Mattoo, a final semester student of the LL.B. course at Campus Law Centre, Delhi University was residing with her parents in New Delhi. The appellant, Santosh Kumar Singh had also been a student in the same faculty and had completed his LL.B. in December 1994.
As per the prosecution story, the appellant had been attracted to the deceased and even though he had passed out from the Law Centre in 1994, he had continued to visit the campus even thereafter. The appellant harassed and intimidated the deceased and despite her requests, did not desist from doing so.
The deceased thereupon made several complaints against the appellant in different Police Stations during the year 1995 on which he was summoned to the Police Station and was advised to behave properly and a Personal Security Officer was also deputed for the security of the deceased. As there was no eye witness to the incident, the prosecution placed reliance only on circumstantial and documentary evidence.
The trial court on the basis of findings held that the case against the appellant could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt and acquitted him. The matter was taken in appeal to the High Court. The High Court held all the circumstances as having been proved in favour of the prosecution and reversed the judgment of the trial court and awarded a death sentence.
The Supreme Court after going through the evidence reiterated that a false plea taken by an accused in a case of circumstantial evidence can be considered another link in the chain. It held that the onus to prove the circumstances relating to the injury and treatment were within the special personal knowledge of the appellant. He could, therefore, not keep silent and say that the obligation rested on the prosecution to prove its case.
It was also argued on behalf of the defence that the observation of the High Court that the DNA test conclusively proved the involvement of the appellant in the rape was not tenable as it appeared that the vaginal swabs and slides which were allegedly taken from the dead body at the time of the post-mortem examination and the blood samples of the appellant had been tampered with. But the Supreme Court after examining the evidence did not agree with the defence argument.
It also rejected the argument that the primary allegations were of rape whereas murder was a
secondary issue in the facts of the case and that the proof of murder would depend only on proof of rape. It held that there was very substantial evidence with regard to the allegations of murder simpliciter. After discussing the relevant evidence on the point, it held that assuming, therefore, for a moment, that there was some uncertainty about the rape, the culpability of the appellant for the murder was nevertheless writ large and the Trial Judge was absolutely wrong in ordering an acquittal.
Regarding the argument of appellant with regard to the propriety of the High Court’s interference in an acquittal appeal assuming the present matter to be a first appeal, it agreed that a judgment of acquittal rendered by a trial court must be given the greatest consideration and the appellate court should be slow in setting aside that judgment, and where two views are possible, the one taken by the trial court would not be disturbed. On the contrary if the trial court’s judgment was perverse, meaning thereby that it was not only against the weight of evidence but was all together against the evidence, interference was called for. In this case the High Court was alive to its limitation in such a matter and while dealing with this argument first expressed its shock and observed that though virtually all the findings were in favour of the prosecution, yet curiously, the decision had been rendered in favour of the accused. The judgment of the trial court was accordingly held to be perverse and against the evidence. The Supreme Court on the perusal of the evidence held that the High Court’s observations were justified on the facts of the case.
On the principle that all circumstances which were to be used against an accused in a criminal case were to be put to him in his statement under Section 313 of the Cr.P.C. failing which the said circumstance could not be taken into account, it held that though few circumstances had not been specifically put to the appellant yet there had been no prejudice to the appellant. The Court further held that the broad principle is that all incriminating material circumstances must be put to an accused while recording his statement under Section 313 of the Code, but if any material circumstance had been left out that would not ipso facto result in the exclusion of that evidence from consideration unless it could further be shown by the accused that prejudice and miscarriage of justice had been sustained by him.
Finally on the sentencing part, defence successfully argued that the present case was not one which fell in the category of the ‘rarest of rare cases’ as several mitigating circumstances with respect to the sentence were discernable. Here the High Court had reversed an acquittal judgment based exclusively on circumstantial evidence. Also the appellant was a young man about 24/25 of age on the date of incident and had been led astray by the vagaries of youth and that after his acquittal in December 1999, he had got married (in the year 2003) and a baby girl had been born to him. The Supreme Court while reducing the sentence reasoned that the mitigating circumstances needed to be taken into account, such as – the High Court has reversed a judgment of acquittal based on circumstantial evidence, the appellant was a young man of 24 at the time of the incident and, after acquittal, had got married and was the father of a girl child. Also there was nothing to suggest that he would not be capable of reform. Though there were extremely aggravating circumstances as well. Nevertheless as per the Supreme Court the balance sheet tilted marginally in favour of the appellant, and the death sentence awarded to him was commuted to life imprisonment.