‘Red handed’ in bribe case need not necessarily prove guilt

Bombay High Court: Acquitting a government officer accused of accepting a Rs 60,000 bribe, a bench comprising of AM Thipsay, J held that being caught “red-handed” need not necessarily prove guilt. In the present case, the accused was  arrested for allegedly demanding and taking a bribe for processing an application to buy non-agriculture land. The bribe giver had handed over a wad of notes on which phenolphthalein powder had been applied made the accused’s hands turn pink. The prosecution had pointed to the hands of the officer having turned pink because of the phenolphthalein powder on the notes and claimed it proved that he had accepted the bribe. The police also recovered cash in the accused’s office. 

The Court cited lack of any corroborative evidence and raised doubts about how the powder came into contact with the hands of the officer. The court questioned how both hands of the accused’s could turn pink when the bribe giver in his statement said that he had accepted the cash with his right hand. It was also noted that crucial corroborative evidence in the case such as recorded conversations was vague and that the police had not submitted call detail records and there was no witness to the incident. It was also pointed out that the bribe giver himself was facing seven to eight criminal cases, including cases of attempt to murder and murder, and his statement could not be safely accepted without a thorough and proper scrutiny.

The  Court stated that the theory of acceptance of bribe cannot be believed merely on the basis of the hands turning pink and therefore in the light of the weaknesses in the prosecution case, not only with respect to the demand of bribe but also with respect to its acceptance, it would not be possible to hold the accused guilty. Jitendra Kumar Jain vs. Central Bureau of Investigation, 2014 SCC OnLine Bom 1798, decided on 3-12-2014

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