Courts cannot convict one accused and acquit the other when evidence against both is the same: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday underscored that courts cannot discriminate between persons accused of a crime, when the evidence against all such persons is the same. [Javed Shaukat Ali Qureshi vs State of Gujarat]
A bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Sanjay Karol had made the observation while acquitting four persons who had been convicted in connection with allegations of dacoity, murder and being part of an unlawful assembly.

The judges also took critical note that while some of the accused in the case had been convicted earlier, others were acquitted, despite the eyewitness evidence against all of them being the same.

“When there is similar or identical evidence of eyewitnesses against two accused by ascribing them the same or similar role, the Court cannot convict one accused and acquit the other. In such a case, the cases of both the accused will be governed by the principle of parity. This principle means that the Criminal Court should decide like cases alike, and in such cases, the Court cannot make a distinction between the two accused, which will amount to discrimination”, the Supreme Court observed.

The top court was hearing an appeal challenging a 2016 Gujarat High Court order. The High Court had upheld the conviction of some of the accused, while acquitting others in the case.

The High Court order was challenged before the Supreme Court in an appeal filed by one such person who was convicted (appellant).

Amicus Curiae Shoeb Alam told the Supreme Court said the appellant was only identified by one witness who had alleged that “someone” had pulled her gold chain.

While so, Alam pointed out that the witness did not know the accused and that a test identification parade was not conducted to properly identify the accused.

It was further pointed out that there were nearly ­100 people in the mob that had gathered at the scene of the crime.

The Supreme Court ultimately allowed the appeal, while opining that the appellant’s conviction cannot be sustained based on a solitary eyewitness account that was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Notably, the Court was also informed that the evidence used to convict three others accused in the same case has since been discarded by the Supreme Court while considering other appeals.

Two of these accused, did not challenge their conviction by the High Court whereas an appeal filed in the Supreme Court by the third accused was summarily dismissed without reasons.

The Supreme Court has now acquitted these three persons as well.

Advocates Fauzia Shakil, Ujjwal Singh, and Agastya Sen represented the appellant-accused, one Javed Shaukat Ali Qureshi.

Advocates Ruchi Kohli, Swati Ghildiyal, Devyani Bhatt, and Srishti Mishra appeared for the Gujarat government.

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