The Kerala High Court on Thursday held that in cases of drunken driving, it is not essential that there should be documentary evidence like medical reports to prove whether a person was drunk, in order to establish his guilt for the offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder [State of Kerala v Sreeram Venkittaraman] [Wafa Najim @ Wafa Firoz v State of Kerala].
Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas clarified that even in the absence of medical reports, courts can conclude that an accused person was drunk based on the circumstances of the case and the statement of the witnesses, thereby making him liable for culpable homicide under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“For the purpose of bringing home the guilt of an accused, under section 304 IPC, based upon drunken driving and the resulting knowledge of the consequences, it is not essential, in every case, that there should be documentary evidence to prove the fact of drunkenness. If the circumstance of the case and the statement of the witnesses inspires the Court to come to a conclusion that the accused was driving the vehicle in a drunken state, in the absence of a statutory mandate for a medical report, the absence of such a report by itself need not deter the court from arriving at such a conclusion. Needless to observe, these are all matters for trial,” the High Court said.
“Rash or negligent driving on a public road with the knowledge of the dangerous character of his act, especially when he drives in an inebriated state, can fall in the category of culpable homicide, not amounting to murder, if the injured died as a result of the injuries,” the Court added.
The Court passed the order on two pleas challenging the order of the Session Court discharging IAS officer Sriram Venkitaraman in a case of culpable homicide after the car he was driving rammed into journalist KM Basheer, killing him.
The police allegedly found Venkitaraman in an inebriated state after the accident. However, there was a significant delay in collecting his blood sample for testing the alcohol level as Venkitaraman had managed to check himself out of the government hospital where the police had taken him.
Subsequently, a case was registered against Venkitaraman as well as Wafa Firoz who was in the car along with Venkitaraman at the time.
In October 2022, the Additional District and Sessions Judge -I, Thiruvananthapuram discharged Venkitaraman and Firoz of the offenses under Section 304, 201 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act (MV Act), and Section 3(1)(2) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
However, the Session court framed charges against Venkitaraman under Sections 279 (rash driving) and 304(A) (causing death by negligence) of the IPC and Section 184 (drunk driving) Of MV Act and Firoz of sections 188 (abetment) and 184 of the IPC.
This prompted the present two pleas challenging the Session Court order.
One was moved by the State government challenging the Sessions Court order and the other was moved by Wafa Firoz challenging the decision of the Session Court framing charges against her.
On Thursday, the High Court set aside the part of the order of the Sessions Court discharging Venkitaraman of culpable homicide charge taking note of the fact, that he didn’t do the medical test on time, which cannot be ignored.
“The contention that there has been an apparent attempt on the part of the first accused to wriggle out of a timely medical test cannot be wholly ignored. After being referred to the Medical College Hospital, the first accused could not have gone to a private hospital, contrary to the reference, unless he wanted to cause the disappearance of the evidence of the alleged offense,” the court noted.
Based on the various aspects of the case, the High Court set aside that portion of the Sessions Court order that had discharged Venkitaraman of the charges under Sections 304 and 201(causing the disappearance of evidence of the commission of the offense of IPC.
However, the court upheld the portion of the order that had discharged him for the offences punishable under Section 184, 185 (Drunk dangerously) of the Motor Vehicle Act (MV Act) and 3(1)(2) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act (PDPP Act).
The Court discharged Venkitaraman from sections 184 and 185 of the MV Act as medical test was not conducted and there was no evidence to reveal the existence of alcohol content in the blood.
The Court also discharged him from the offense under section 3(2) of the PDPP Act as the same requires mischief in respect of public property as its main ingredient.
The revision petition filed by Firoz was allowed and she was discharged for the offense under section 188 of the MV Act on abetment since none of the materials revealed that she permitted Venkitaraman to drive the car.
The State Government was represented by Public Prosecutor SU Nazar.
Sreeram Venkittaraman was represented by advocates S Rajeev S, V Vinay, MS Aneer, Sarath KP, and Prerith Philip Joseph.
Wafa Firoz was represented by advocates G Ranju Mohan, S Suresh, M Shanti and Arya S.