Expert opinion no substitute for Court’s satisfaction: Kerala HC acquits murder-accused

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The satisfaction of the Court cannot be substituted by expert opinion, the Kerala High Court recently observed while acquitting a man accused of murder due to sloppy evidence collection [Biju Kumar v State of Kerala].

A Division Bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and C Jayachandran found that the primary question to consider in the instant criminal appeal was whether there was sufficient material before the trial court that had convicted the accused.

The case against the accused was primarily based on fingerprints and chemical evidence but the Court noted that there wasn’t enough reliable evidence for the trial court to have found the accused guilty of the crime.

“The testimony of an expert is at best an opinion, which has to be given due weight by the Court. However, the conclusion has to be arrived at by the Court itself, based on the opinion of the expert… The satisfaction so arrived at by the Court cannot be substituted with the opinion of the expert,” the Court said.

The Bench acquitted the accused, observing that collection of scientific evidence did not follow the prescribed procedure, and neither the fingerprint comparison report nor the chemical analysis result of similar fibres can be relied upon.

“There are no circumstances proved against the accused and he has to be given the benefit of doubt only due to the sloppy manner in which the collection of evidence was carried out by the Investigating Officer”, the Court stated.

The appellant had been convicted of murdering a retired septuagenarian teacher by smothering her to death and stealing her cash and ornaments.

There were two accused in the case, with one still absconding from the law but the petitioner was found guilty of offences under Sections 457 (lurking house-trespass by night), 392 (robbery), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) and 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The trial court sentenced him to life imprisonment and fine of Rs.25,000 for murder, with further sentences and fines for the other offences.

Advocate Renjith B Marar, appearing for the accused (appellant), argued that the charge set up by the prosecution was based solely on circumstantial evidence and there was not even a single circumstance established to accused’s guilt.

It was contended that the scientific evidence regarding fingerprint and the fabric found on the hands of the victim tested identical to the fabric of the pants recovered from the house of the accused cannot at all be believed. The manner in which the recoveries were made is suspect and the materials sent for scientific examination were not immediately submitted to the court, he added.

Special Government Pleader S Ambikadevi countered by stating that there is an unbroken link from the chain of circumstances proved.

She pressed for dismissal of the appeal as she contended that the trial court’s conviction was based on valid grounds and proved circumstances, and that the sentence imposed was also proper.

The Court noted that the report of the fingerprint expert relied on by the trial court report merely stated that on comparison, the chance print developed from the scene of crime is identical to the left ring finger impression of the accused.

This was inadequate for the trial court to have arrived at its finding, the Court said, as the developed chance print, the sample print, and the photographs should have been produced before the court.

“Further the specific similarities which persuades the expert to form an opinion, has to be detailed, for the Court to compare the prints and come to a conclusion. The procedure followed is grossly inadequate to inspire confidence of the court and the report is inadmissible in evidence,” the Court observed.

It concluded that the trial court erred in having relied on fingerprint evidence as an incriminating circumstance.

The other scientific evidence strongly relied on by the prosecution was a piece of fibre found in the palm of the deceased which tallied with the fibre of the pants recovered from the house of the accused.

Here too, the Court found that the scientific analyst did not speak on how the fibres were similar, without which the Court cannot satisfy itself.

Finding that none of the circumstances as pointed out by the prosecution have been established to pin the crime on the accused, the Court acquitted the appellant.

Read Judgment here:

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