Dowry Death Case | Supreme Court Surprised At HC Using Same Dying Declaration To Convict Husband While Disbelieving It For Father-in-Law
The Supreme Court, while acquitting a convict in a dowry death case, emphasized the critical importance of ensuring that a dying declaration is trustworthy and reliable, and inspires confidence when it is considered the sole basis for a criminal conviction.
The Court pointed out that the circumstances under which the dying declaration was recorded raised concerns about whether it was a voluntary statement or if it had been influenced or tutored. The Court also emphasized a glaring inconsistency in the treatment of the dying declaration by the High Court. While the declaration was accepted as evidence against the appellant(husband), it was disbelieved in the case of Jora Singh, the father-in-law of the deceased.
It observed “The most glaring aspect that is required to be considered is that the High Court itself has disbelieved the dying declaration insofar as Jora Singh, father-in-law of the deceased is concerned. We fail to understand as to how the same dying declaration could have been made the basis for conviction of the appellant when the same was disbelieved insofar as another accused is concerned.”
Additionally, it noted that the allegations of dowry harassment were vague and lacked substantial evidence to support the prosecution’s case.
Thus, the court held that “We are therefore of the considered view that there is no evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased was harassed on account of non-fulfillment of demand of dowry. We therefore find that the case under Section 304-B of IPC is not made out by the prosecution.”
A 3 judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices BR Gavai, Justice PS Narsimha, and Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra was hearing an appeal against a division bench judgment of the Punjab & Haryana High Court where a criminal appeal was partly allowed in a dowry death case. The Appellant’s conviction and sentence for 7 years under section 304-B was upheld while his father was acquitted.
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The Appellant(husband) and his wife(deceased) got married in 1987. Allegedly, the appellant used to harass his wife regularly for dowry. On 5th Nov 1991(Diwali), it was found that she was burnt and was taken to a hospital. Then, her statement was recorded by the executive magistrate where she told that the appellant had burnt her. Based on this, charges were framed against the appellant and his parents under section 302 read with 34 and 302 IPC. The Sessions judge convicted them under section 304-B but gave the benefit of doubt to acquit them under section 302 IPC. An appeal was filed by both parties challenging the conviction before the HC. The HC acquitted the father-in-law under section 304-B IPC but confirmed the sentence given to the appellant.
Aggrieved by the same, the appellant approached the Supreme Court.
The Court began by noting that the deceased got burn injuries on 5th November,1991 but the dying declaration was recorded 3 days after. The Court scrutinized the circumstances surrounding the recording of the dying declaration and raised concerns about its voluntariness and potential influence or tutoring. It was found that the individuals facilitating the recording of the declaration by the Executive Magistrate were related to the deceased and had suggested that she was fit to make a statement.
The timeline of events related to the declaration was particularly revealing. The doctor testified that the Executive Magistrate had recorded the dying declaration at 04.40 p.m but he himself had issued an opinion regarding the deceased’s fitness at 06.00 p.m. This also raised doubts about the genuineness of the examination.
The Court also considered the testimony of Dr. Jasmeet Singh Dhir (PW-7), who revealed that while admitting the deceased in the hospital she mentioned that her husband had extinguished the fire by pouring water on her.
Given these revelations and the overall circumstances, the Supreme Court concluded that the dying declaration could not be regarded as free from doubt.
As far as the demand for dowry is concerned, the court noted that the prosecution relied on the evidence of the father and brother of the deceased whose evidence will have to be scrutinized with greater care, caution, and circumspection. The Sarpanch(PW-6) came to know this from the father himself and also didn’t know if there was any harassment or not.
The Court opined “Insofar as harassment with regard to non-fulfillment of demand of dowry is concerned, except the vague allegation, there is nothing in their evidence to support the prosecution case
In light of these observations and doubts surrounding the evidence, the Supreme Court concluded that the prosecution had not established the case under Section 304-B of IPC (dowry death) beyond a reasonable doubt.
Therefore, the appeal was allowed and the court set aside the conviction of the appellant.
Case title: Phulel Singh v. State of Haryana
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 83
For Appellant: Sr Adv Mr Rajul Bhargava
For Respondent: AOR Samar Vijay Singh. (Live Law)