A bench of Chief Justice of India UU Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi observed in their order that “many glaring lapses” had occurred during the trial.
The bench noted that Section 165 (a judge’s power to put questions or order production) of the Indian Evidence Act confers “unbridled powers” upon the trial courts to put any question at any stage to the witnesses to elicit the truth. “As observed in several decisions, the judge is not expected to be a passive umpire but is supposed to actively participate in the trial and to question the witnesses to reach a correct conclusion,” said the judges.
The court said the entire case of the prosecution rested on “circumstantial evidence” and the “totality of circumstances” along with evidence on record prove that the prosecution had failed to prove the guilt of the accused.
“As per the settled legal position, in order to sustain conviction, the circumstances taken cumulatively should form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability, the crime was committed by the accused only and none else. The circumstantial evidence must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be inconsistent with his innocence,” the court observed.
The court also raised questions on sample collection, storage and examination for DNA profiling and matching of the victim and the accused. All the samples of the accused men and the victim were collected by the investigating officer on February 14, 2012, and February 16. The samples were sent to the laboratory for examination on February 27, 2012.
“During this period, they remained in the malkhana of the police station. Under the circumstances, the possibility of tampering with the samples collected also could not be ruled out. Neither the trial court, nor the high court has examined the underlying basis of the findings in the DNA reports, nor have they examined the fact whether the techniques were reliably applied by the expert. In the absence of such evidence on record, all the reports with regard to the DNA profiling become highly vulnerable, more particularly when the collection and sealing of the samples sent for examination were also not free from suspicion,” the court stated.
Advocate Sonia Mathur, who was the amicus curiae in the case, had opposed the DNA report dated April 18, 2012 “giving incriminating findings” against the accused and submitted before the court on the ground that the collection of the samples sent for examination was very doubtful and the said forensic evidence was neither scientifically, nor legally proved and could not have been used as a circumstance against the accused.
Asserting that it “finds substance in the said submissions” of the amicus, the court remarked: “The DNA evidence is in the nature of opinion evidence as envisaged under Section 45 (opinions of experts), and like any other opinion evidence, its probative value varies from case to case.”
The top court also called the account of bloodstains and semen found on the seat covers of the Indica car seized on February 13, 2012, and sent to the laboratory for examination to be “highly improbable and unreliable”. It said there was no clear evidence as to who was in custody of the said car after its seizure till it was sent to CFSL for examination and as to whether the car was sealed during the said period.
Casting doubt on the recovery of a strand of hair found from the body of the victim, the court said this was highly doubtful as it was allegedly found from the body of the deceased which was lying in the open field for about three days and three nights.
Articles found near the body of the victim, which included ATM cards, driving licence, photocopies of school leaving certificates and a PAN card incriminating one of the accused, Rahul, were taken away from him at the police station, the court noted.
The bench said the trial court had committed a “gross error” in exhibiting the entire disclosure statement of the accused for being read in evidence. “If a confession is made by the accused before the police, and a portion of such confession leads to the recovery of any incriminating material, such a portion alone would be admissible under Section 27 (How much of information received from accused may be proved) of the Evidence Act, and not the entire confessional statement,” the bench said.