A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari on May 6 upheld the legal position that the accused can challenge his conviction in an appeal filed by the State even if he did not prefer a formal appeal in the case of State of Rajasthan vs. Mehram and Ors.
Facts of the Case
The complainant had four fields out of which one was situated at a distance of about one kilometre. To reach the field, the complainant had to pass through the fields of the accused. This path was unrecorded in the government record. Hence, there were quarrels among the parties regarding the path. One night, when the complainant was returning from his field, the accused came out of the bushes and surrounded him. One of the accused attacked the complainant but he defended the blow by his hand and got injured on the palm after which Mehram, the accused against this appeal is preferred came from behind and gave a blow at the complainants head and everybody ran away assuming he died of the blow.
Observation of the courts
The trial court after an extensive analysis of the evidence on record found Mehram along with other accused persons guilty in the case. The court convicted Mehram of committing an offence under Section 148, 302, 324/149 Indian Penal Code. Accused Mehram is hereby sentenced to undergo life imprisonment and to pay fine of Rs.100/in default of payment of fine to undergo an additional three months rigorous imprisonment under Section 302 Indian Penal Code.
The accused preferred an appeal before the High court where the conviction of Mehram was converted from under Section 302 to one under section 326 of IPC on the finding that the said accused had exceeded his right of private defence. Despite the charge of murder and intentionally causing, the High Court awarded sentence of the period already undergone (around five months) by the accused Mehram and directed him to pay compensation of Rs.50,000 to the next of kin of the deceased.
Hence this appeal is filed by the state against all the five accused persons originally but it was made clear by the counsel for the state that the appeal is being pursued only against the respondent Mehram in respect of the nature of the offence which was converted to section 326 from Section 302 and the sentence which was awarded.
The counsel for Mehram however, urged that the said accused had a right to challenge the finding of guilt and conviction under Section 326 and 148, IPC, recorded against him, even though the said accused had not preferred a formal appeal against the impugned judgment. To make good this submission, reliance is placed on Chandrakant Patil vs. State through CBI (1998) 3 SCC 38, Sumer Singh vs. Surajbhan Singh & Others 4 (2014) 7 SCC 323, State of Rajasthan vs. Ramanand (2017) 5 SCC 695, and Section 377(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
Decision of the Supreme Court
The accused Mehram is justified in contending that it is open to the said accused to challenge the finding and order of conviction under Section 326/148, IPC recorded against him in the appeal filed by the State, assailing the impugned judgment of the High Court.
The Supreme Court condemned the judgement of the High court and said it is based on erroneous assumptions and the sentence of only about five months in the facts of the present case, by no stretch of the imagination, was adequate. The Court upheld the trial court’s reasoning and partly allowed this appeal by the state. The court modified the judgment of the trial court and the High court by convicting Mehram for an offence punishable under Section 304 Part I and Section 148, IPC.
The bench also ordered that the bail bonds stands cancelled and the accused Mehram is directed to surrender within six weeks from the date on which lockdown in the country due to pandemic COVID-19 including in the State of Rajasthan is relaxed, to undergo the remaining sentence period.
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