Evidence of hostile witness can be considered to the extent it supports prosecution case: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court on Monday reiterated that evidence of a hostile witness can be considered to the extent, it supports the case of the prosecution [Malti Sahu and Another v. Rahul and Another].

In doing so, a division bench of Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna upheld the order of conviction and sentence passed by the trial court convicting the accused-respondent for the offence of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

“As per the settled position of law, even the evidence of a hostile witness can be considered to the extent, it supports the case of the prosecution,” the Court observed.

On December 16, 2011, the appellant, Malti Devi who was a teacher by profession, had gone for work leaving behind her two children at home. In the evening, when she returned, she found her daughter and son in a pool of blood with their throats slit.

A complaint was registered and an investigation was carried out by the local police station. During the investigation, the statement of witnesses were taken. One of the witness, Sidharth Vashisht said that he had seen the respondent-accused, Rahul, along with the two children coming from the side of a school on foot and going towards their locality wearing a blue color sweater. It was also informed that while returning, Rahul was not wearing the said blue sweater but he had covered himself with a brown shawl.

Soon, Rahul was arrested and on the basis of his disclosure statement, a bag containing blood-stained clothes was recovered. A blue sweater was also recovered from the crime scene.

The statement of witnesses were recorded including a doctor from whom the respondent-accused took the first aid in respect of the injury sustained by him on the ring finger of his left hand and the shopkeeper from whom the accused had purchased the knife used for the commission of the offence.

On the basis of trial, the trial court held the respondent-accused guilty of killing the two children and sentenced him to undergo imprisonment for life and also imposed a fine of ₹25,000. This was despite eye-witness Sidharth Vashisht turning hostile.

Aggrieved, the respondent-accused approached the High Court which quashed and set aside the judgment and order of conviction and sentence passed by the trial court.

The appellant Malti Devi and the State then approached the Supreme Court by way of the present appeal.

Senior Advocate Neeraj Kumar Jain, appearing for the appellants, argued that the prosecution had successfully proved the motive of the respondent to kill the deceased. It was argued that even from the deposition of Sidharth Vashisht (though he turned hostile), the prosecution has been able to establish and prove that the respondent-accused was harassing the deceased.

It was also argued that the High Court did not properly appreciate and considered the fact that the knife used in the commission of the offence, which was recovered from the place of occurrence, was purchased by the respondent-accused, which had been established and proved by the prosecution by examining the relevant witness, the shopkeeper.

Moreover, the blue-colored sweater had stains of blood similar to that of respondent-accused, which he was unable to explain. Additionally, it was submitted that even the respondent-accused sustained an injury on ring finger of his left hand, which was detected immediately after the occurrence of the incident and the accused had failed to explain the same.

Opposing the plea, advocate Aditya Dhawan, appearing for the respondents argued that the present case was based on circumstantial evidence and that the eye-witness Sidharth Vashisht, had turned hostile.

It was further contended that it has not been established and proved that the blue-colored sweater having blood stains belonged to the respondent-accused. Regarding the injury on the ring finger of the accused is concerned, it was contended that it was an old injury.

Hence, there was no direct evidence to prove the guilt of the accused, it was submitted.

The Court took the view that the prosecution had been successful in proving the motive so far as the respondent-accused is concerned.

With regard to Sidharth Vashisht, witness who initially gave statement against the respondent-accused but had later turned hostile, the Court specifically noted and observed that his statement would be considered relevant to the extent it supported the case of prosecution.

The Court also noted that another link in the evidence, which established the guilt of the accused person was the recovery of the knife which was used for commission of the offence. The Court said that the prosecution was successful in establishing and proving that it was the respondent-accused, who purchased the said knife.

It also noted that the respondent-accused had failed to explain the injury con his ring finger. The doctor had said it could have happened due to a sharp-edged weapon while the accused had come out with a false explanation that the injury was caused by an iron bar.

While setting aside the decision of the High Court, the top Court observed:

“Considering the aforesaid overall facts of the case and evidence on record, the High Court has committed a grave/serious error in observing that the prosecution has failed to prove the link evidence, which could establish and bring home the guilt of the accused. The findings recorded by the High Court are perverse. The High Court has not properly appreciated the entire evidence on record, more particularly, the findings recorded by the trial court, which as such were on appreciation of the entire evidence on record.”

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