Facts of the case:
On 14th June 1989, Devender Singh (hereinafter referred to as ‘the deceased’) had parked his two-wheeler before the gate of the accused appellant’s manager’s office where he was employed as a Personal Security Officer. The accused-appellant requested that he remove the scooter but the deceased disregarded the complaint. The accused-appellant sat on the scooter and asked the deceased to ride it to the Adarsh Nagar police headquarters. The deceased did not go on the right course and attempted to head in a misguided direction. The accused appellant told him to stop. A fight ensued during which, the accused appellant took out his gun and fired. It hit a bystander’s thigh. The accused appellant fired again which ultimately killed the deceased.
The accused-appellant claimed that other than the deceased there was someone else who, with the deceased, hauled him and was thereafter accompanied by three or four drivers who attacked him and grabbed his gun. While struggling with them to recover the pistol, it went off and hurt the bystander as well as the deceased. The accused-appellant thus claimed the defence of ‘Accident’ under Section 80 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short ‘ IPC’).
Whether this case can be considered as an accident covered under Section 80 of the IPC?
The accused-appellant was held by the Delhi Court to be guilty of an attempt to commit culpable homicide under Section 308 of the IPC and culpable homicide not amounting to murder, punishable by twelve years of imprisonment under Section 304 of the IPC.
For the purpose of this assignment, the researcher shall mainly delve into the accused appellant’s plea of the defence of accident under Section 80 of the IPC which states:—
“Nothing is an offence which is done by accident or misfortune, and without any criminal intention or knowledge in the doing of a lawful act in a lawful manner by lawful means and with proper care and caution.”
- Appellant’s Argument
The appellant contended that the Delhi High Court did not consider the case in its appropriate perspective, particularly his plea of the accident as a defense under Section 80 of the Indian Penal Code. It was highlighted that the prosecution’s version was not completely purported by any witness examined while the version submitted by the accused-appellant was more plausible and supported by the materials on record. The attention of the court was also drawn to the Principal Scientific Officer’s statement that the weapon used by the accused-appellant was semi-automatic and that when the trigger is squeezed, the projectile is shot and the pistol gets reloaded on its own. Hence, it was pleaded that the possibility of the pistol being pressed unintentionally the second time during the course of the scuffle cannot be ruled out.
Reference was also made to the evidence of a police officer posted in a Police Control Room (PCR) who, by some unknown telephone, notified regarding the shooting by three persons at the location of the squabble, accordingly meaning that the appellant’s version (claiming three persons being involved in the scuffle) is more substantial. It was contended that the aforementioned evidence thus established that it was the deceased who had snatched away his pistol in lieu of which an accident occurred and he was killed.
- Respondent’s Argument
The learned counsel for the State maintained the same contention that the appellant was guilty of the offense of culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code with respect to the deceased and attempt to commit culpable homicide under Section 308 of Indian Penal Code for the injuries to the bystander, the substantive sentences of which (imprisonment and fine), were supposed to be conducted simultaneously. The plea of accident under Section 80 was accordingly struck as inapplicable by the defendant by maintaining that the High Court’s judgment needs no interference.
- Judgement and Ratio
The apex court observed that Section 80 of the Indian Penal Code absolves a person who has done an act in a lawful manner and without any malignance from any unforeseen outcome that may ensue from an accident or mishap. In the event that any of the components expressed above is missing, then the said act will not come under the purview of Section 80 of IPC.
The Apex Court called attention to the fact that an accident is not the same as an occurrence for the previous instance that happens out of the ordinary and typical course of things. An impact is said to be accidental when there is the absence of intention of doing the act and its consequence isn’t very plausible that an individual having normal reasonability ought to adopt appropriate precautions against it.
The Supreme Court referred its own observations made in the case Atmendra v. State of Karnataka that to secure the advantage of the provisions of Section 80 of IPC, the following elements have to be fulfilled—
(i) That the act in question was done without any criminal intention or knowledge;
(ii) That the act was done in a lawful manner and by lawful means;
(iii) That the act was done with proper care and caution.
It was observed that in the current case, according to the evidence on record, it is proved that the accused had fired the gun and it was not an act that can be construed as an accident and therefore, the question of applying Section 80 didn’t emerge. The Apex Court held that in the current case the accused-appellant deliberately used the pistol during the altercation.
The Supreme Court relied more upon the evidence of Mangat Ram, an independent witness, who stated (on record) that immediately after the event, the accused-appellant disclosed the episode to him but didn’t reveal that the deceased grabbed his pistol, or that he was accompanied by three to four individuals who were drivers. He explicitly told him that as the deceased attempted to snatch the gun, he shot at him. But he didn’t tell him the number of times the gun had been fired.
Accordingly, the court held that the evidence presented by Mangat Ram is very important, that the accused’s version of facts is not maintainable and that Section 80 of the IPC is not applicable to the present case.
To invoke the provision of Section 80, there should be the absence of both criminal intention and criminal knowledge. No act is per se criminal unless the actor committed it with criminal intent. As the object of criminal law is to punish only serious infractions of the order of society, it cannot punish a man for his mistakes or errors.
If people following their common occupations, use due caution to forestall danger, and nevertheless tragically happen to kill anyone, such an act is homicide by misadventure. The word “accident” in the section doesn’t mean mere chance. It rather implies an inadvertent, unexpected act.
An accident is really an event that occurs all of a sudden and no man of ordinary prudence could foresee it. If an occurrence is borne out of an accidental act, no one’s conscience would deem it right to punish the doer, because an accidental act is not his act at all. He does not will it; and therefore, cannot be held not responsible for the consequence.
In the present case, the accused-appellant bore the knowledge of the consequences of taking out the pistol and reflected or implied the intention to shoot by doing so. Even if he couldn’t have anticipated the scuffle or the pistol being snatched (which itself is nullified by the evidence presented by Mangat Ram in the first place), he didn’t proceed with proper care and caution, and thus, hurt the by-stander with the first shot. Subsequently, the accused-appellant could have reasonably predicted that the gun being a semi-automatic weapon was sensitive enough to fire off again but he didn’t exercise any effort to safely put the weapon away.
In light of all the aforementioned facts, observations, and evidence, the accused-appellant was held guilty by the Apex Court of committing culpable homicide not amounting to murder and attempt to commit culpable homicide punishable by imprisonment and fine, and accordingly, it rejected the accused-appellant’s plea of defence of accident under Section 80 of the Indian Penal Code, deeming it as inapplicable.