Benefit of the doubt must go to accused: SC

The benefit of the doubt in cases based on a flawed police investigation must favour the accused irrespective of the gravity of the crime, the Supreme Court held in a recent judgment in a 17-year-old case of murder and rioting in Uttar Pradesh. “The accused cannot be expected to relinquish his innocence at the hands of an inefficacious prosecution, which is ridden with investigative deficiencies,” a Bench of Justices N.V. Ramana and Mohan M. Shantanagoudar observed in a verdict pronounced on December 10. “The benefit of doubt arising out of such inefficient investigation, must be bestowed upon the accused,” the court ruled. “The cumulative effect of investigative lapses fortifies the presumption of innocence in favour of the accused,” Justice Ramana wrote for the Bench, dismissing the appeal of the Uttar Pradesh government against the acquittal of Wasif Haider and others. In 2001, a mob of 200-300 unidentified persons had gone on a rampage in Kanpur’s Chaubey Gola temple area, with the rioters opening fire at police personnel killing a senior officer and injuring another. Produced in a test identification parade, the accused were arrested on the basis of witnesses testimony. While the Kanpur trial court held the accused to be guilty in 2004, the High Court acquitted them citing contradictions in the testimonies of the witnesses. When the State appealed in the Supreme Court, Kamini Jaiswal and Siddhartha Dave, appearing for the accused, argued that the witnesses were at a great distance from the place of occurrence and it was not plausible to identify the accused. The court agreed that the case “is ridden with multiple investigative lapses and flaws, which goes to the root of the matter.”

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