Murder convict acquitted on grounds of insanity at the time of commission of the act

Supreme Court: Navin Sinha, J. speaking for himself and A.M. Khanwilkar, J. delivered a decision in a criminal appeal wherein the appellant, a convict under Sections 302 and 324 IPC, was acquitted giving him benefit of doubt on grounds of insanity at the time of the commission of the act.

The appellant was convicted of murder of one Harish Chandra Chauhan. On the day of the incident, he picked up a sickle from a shop and started attacking the people around, and when the deceased came to the rescue of a person being attacked, the appellant rained blows on his back and stomach which resulted in his death. The petitioner tried to flee but was apprehended by the villagers and handed over to the police. The trial court while finding guilt of the appellant, did not accept his plea of unsoundness of mind. He was convicted for the offences mentioned above. The Bombay High Court declined to interfere.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that the prosecution deliberately withheld relevant evidence with regard to appellant’s mental illness and his mental condition during the commission of the act. It was held that both the trial court and the High Court completely failed to discuss this lacuna in the prosecution case. The Court referred to Surendra Mishra v. State of Jharkhand, (2011) 11 SCC 495 while noting that in such cases, the accused has only to prove a preponderance of probability. The medical records of the appellant, the fact of the psychiatric treatment even in the prison for continuing ailment, statement of the witnesses, etc., all pointed towards the fact that the appellant was not of sound mind and he suffered insanity while the act was committed. The Court was of the view that the burden of proof under Section 105 of Evidence Act was satisfied by the appellant; by a preponderance of probability, he was able to raise a doubt regarding his mental condition at the time of the act. Accordingly, giving him the benefit of Section 84 IPC, the Court allowed the appeal and acquitted the appellant. Further, it was considered that necessary directions should be given under Sections 335/339 CrPC for proper care and support to the appellant befitting his right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. [Devidas Loka Rathod v. State of Maharashtra,  2018 SCC OnLine SC 645, decided on 02-07-2018]

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