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CASE STUDY: Pattu Rajan & Ors. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu

In this landmark judgment, the Hon'ble Supreme Court held that:


1. The necessary proof beyond reasonable doubt should be adduced in all criminal cases. The traditional dogmatic hyper technical approach has to be replaced by a rational, realistic and genuine approach for administering justice in a criminal trial.


2. Justice cannot be made sterile by exaggerated adherence to the rule of proof, in as much as the benefit of doubt must always be reasonable and not fanciful. The mentioned case therefore holds relevance in this regard.


3. The fresh offence cannot be investigated as part of the pending case and should instead be investigated afresh in case a fresh offence is committed during the course of the earlier investigation.


4. It cannot be said that the absence of DNA evidence would lead to an adverse inference against a party, especially in the presence of other cogent and reliable evidence on record in favour of such party.


Here is the entire case study:

Pattu Rajan Vs. St of Tamil Nadu
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PATTU RAJAN AND OTHERS Vs. THE STATE OF TAMIL NADU

COURT: Supreme Court of India

BENCH: Justice N. V. Ramana, Mohan M. Shantanagoudar, Indira Banerjee, JJ.

DECIDED ON: 29.03.2019

CITATION: 2019 (2) SCC (Cri) 354


INTRODUCTION

It is a murder case based on circumstantial evidence wherein the Supreme Court established that necessary proof beyond reasonable doubt should be adduced in all criminal cases. The traditional dogmatic hyper technical approach has to be replaced by a rational, realistic and genuine approach for administering justice in a criminal trial. Justice cannot be made sterile by exaggerated adherence to the rule of proof, in as much as the benefit of doubt must always be reasonable and not fanciful. The mentioned case therefore holds relevance in this regard.

SUMMARY OF FACTS

In this case, the Appellant P. Rajagopal (Accused no. 1) who is the proprietor of a chain of hotels called Saravana Bhavan committed a crime with the motive to take Jeevajothi the Complainant and wife of the deceased Santhakumar (employee of P. Rajagopal), as his third wife. Rajagopal in pursuant to fulfil his desire orchestrated multiple threats, beatings and exorcism against the Complainant and her family. The Accused made several failed attempts with the help of the other accused to sever the relationship of the Complainant and her husband. To shape the whole incident and to force the Complainant to marry the Accused no. 1, he got abducted the husband of the Complainant with the help of other Accused and in 2001, he successfully orchestrated the murder of husband of the Complainant. The Complainant subsequently lodged an FIR against all accused persons.

FINDING OF THE COURT

The Trial Court after considering the evidence on record convicted Rajagopal and nine others accused under Sections 364, 304 Part 1 and 201 of Indian Penal Code.


The Accused as well as the State preferred an appeal before the High Court challenging the judgment of the trial Court. The High Court while passing the judgment confirmed the findings of the Trial Court and modified the conviction of the offence of the accused from culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Section 304 Part 1) to murder (Section 302). Challenging the Judgment of the High Court, all the accused preferred an appeal before the Supreme Court and after about 10 years the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the High Court.

RELEVANT LAWS

Various legal provisions involved in the case are –

Section 201: Causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender

Whoever, knowing or having reason to believe that an offence has been committed, causes any evidence of the commission of that offence to disappear, with the intention of screening the offender from legal punishment, or with that intention gives any information respecting the offence which he knows or believes to be false

Section 300: Murder

Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or —

Secondly —If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or—

Thirdly —If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be in­flicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or—

Fourthly —If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.

Section 302: Punishment for murder

Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 304: Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder

Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.

Section 361: Kidnapping from lawful guardianship

Whoever takes or entices any minor under sixteen years of age if a male, or under eighteen years of age if a female, or any person of unsound mind, out of the keeping of the lawful guardian of such minor or person of unsound mind, without the consent of such guardian, is said to kidnap such minor or person from lawful guardianship.

Section 362: Abduction

“Whoever by force compels, or by any deceitful means induces, any person to go from any place, is said to abduct that person.”

Section 364: Kidnapping or abducting in order to murder

Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person in order that such person may be murdered or may be so disposed of as to be put in danger of being murdered, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Main issues raised by consideration of the Court

· Whether the registration of a second FIR in relation to the same incident or different incidents arising from the same occurrence is in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution?

· Whether the non-conducting of a DNA test and the reliance on evidence regarding identification through superimposition was improper or not?

ARGUMENTS ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER

The appellants stated that the circumstances depended upon by the prosecution have not been demonstrated as per law and the High Court and the Trial Court have only continued on presumptions. He further stated that the subsequent first information report registered on 20.11.2001 could not have been registered at all, inasmuch as there cannot be a second FIR relating to the same incident. According to him, the incident as found in the first information report dated 20.11.2001 is merely a continuation of the earlier offence of abduction which had taken place on 01.10.2001, which had generated proceedings pursuant to the first information lodged on 12.10.2001. In this manner, as per him, the FIR in the current case would just accept the character of an announcement recorded under Section 161 of the Cr.P.C and the proceedings in this issue would stand vitiated.


Learned counsel also submitted that the identification of the body merely on the basis of a superimposition test was improper, in the absence of a DNA test.

ARGUMENTS ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENT

The Respondent mainly depended upon three circumstances to demonstrate the guilt of the accused, i.e. motive, observed situation and the recuperation of the dead body at the case of the accused. An extra connection in the chain of conditions is the non-clarification by the accused about the last observed situation in their announcement recorded under Section 313 of the Cr.P.C.

He argued that the incident of murder in the case in hand is merely a continuation of an earlier offence, i.e. Crime No. 1030 of 2001 relating to the abduction of PW1 and the deceased Santhakumar, which occurred on 01.10.2001. Without a doubt circumstantial factors must be considered so as to decide if such acts structure some portion of a similar exchange or not[1]. In any event, when the two FIRs are perused together, it turns out to be evident that the principal occurrence of abduction started and finished on 01.10.2001.


Evidently, the time and place of the two occurrences are unique but merely because of their common motive, the second offence cannot be said to be in continuation of the first incident, in light of there being distinct intentions behind the two offences. The first offence was committed with the intention to abduct the deceased and PW1, the purpose for which was merely to threaten and pressurize them. In contrast, the intention behind the second offence was to murder the deceased with a view to permanently get rid of him. Therefore, it is evident that unity of purpose and design between the two offences is also absent.

RATIO DECIDENDI

While referring the law that the registration of a second FIR (which is not a counter case) is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution[2], Hon’ble Supreme Court reiterated the law laid in the case of Awadesh Kumar Jha v. State of Bihar[3], that the fresh offence cannot be investigated as part of the pending case and should instead be investigated afresh in case a fresh offence is committed during the course of the earlier investigation, which is distinct from the offence being investigated, and further investigation, as envisaged under sub-section 8 of Section 173 of the Cr.P.C, connotes investigation of the case in continuation of an earlier investigation with respect to which the charge-sheet has already been filed.


It is further held that the probative value accorded to DNA evidence, like all other opinion evidence, also varies from case to case, depending on facts and circumstances and the weight accorded to other evidence on record, whether contrary or corroborative. Thus, it cannot be said that the absence of DNA evidence would lead to an adverse inference against a party, especially in the presence of other cogent and reliable evidence on record in favour of such party.

The contention that the non-conducting of a DNA test and the reliance on evidence regarding identification through superimposition was improper, was rejected.

OBITER DICTA

The bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee dismissed the batch of appeals filed by accused against the 2009 judgment of Madras High Court. The Apex Court upheld the life sentence awarded by the High Court to P. Rajagopal and five of his aides for murder of Santhakumar in 2001.


Stating that the prosecution has fully proved that the accused had murdered Santhakumar by strangulating him and thereafter throwing the dead body at near Tiger ­Chola forest area, the Court said:

“It is worth recalling that while it is necessary that proof beyond reasonable doubt should be adduced in all criminal cases, it is not necessary that such proof should be perfect, and someone who is guilty cannot get away with impunity only because the truth may develop some infirmity when projected through human processes.”


The Court, hence, concluded that the chain of circumstances is complete and points solely at the guilt of Rajagopal.

CONCLUSION

It took 18 years for Jeevajothi, who got widow in her youth to get justice for the murder of her husband.


The High Court of Madras held the accused guilty of murder under Section 302, IPC, which was appealed by Rajagopal. The Supreme Court on 29th April 2019 dismissed the appeals filed and held P Rajagopal guilty for murder, awarding him life sentence.


Rajagopal was given time till July to surrender and serve his sentence however, he suffered from a cardiac arrest and passed away on July 18, 2019.

[1] State of A.P. v. Cheemalapati Ganeswara Rao, (1964) 3 SCR 297 [2] T.T. Antony v. State of Kerala, (2001) 6 SCC 181 [3] (2016) 3 SCC 8