In a recent decision, the Supreme Court has overturned a joint conviction of two men accused in a rape case dating back two decades. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had upheld the Trial Court's decision to sentence the defendants to ten years of rigorous imprisonment, along with a fine. However, the recent ruling sheds light on critical inconsistencies in the prosecution's case, leading the court to conclude that the case was not established beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Supreme Court acknowledged the gravity of convictions under Section 376 of the IPC, emphasizing that reliance on the credibility of the prosecutrix's testimony is permissible if deemed trustworthy. Despite the recognition that minor inconsistencies in evidence may not substantially affect a case, the Bench of Justice B. R. Gavai and Justice P. s. Narsimha found that the prosecution had not sufficiently proven its case against the appellants in this instance.
The defense presented a compelling argument, asserting the existence of a civil dispute between the appellant(s)'s grandfather and the prosecutrix's grandfather. While the prosecutrix initially denied knowledge of the dispute, her conflicting statements and contradictions raised doubts about the veracity of her claims. The close proximity of the prosecutrix and the appellants, living within three houses of each other, added complexity to the case.
The alleged incident occurred when the prosecutrix's brothers were away, and a knock on the door led her to open it, expecting her brothers. The appellants then forcibly raped her, covering her mouth, and fled when she raised an alarm. The next morning, accompanied by her parents, the prosecutrix reported the incident to the police.
The Trial Court had found the appellants guilty under Sections 376(2)(g), 342 read with Section 34 of the IPC, imposing a ten-year sentence along with a fine. The High Court upheld this conviction, prompting the appellants to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court.
While convictions under Section 376 can rest solely on the testimony of the prosecutrix, the Bench meticulously reviewed all evidence and found discrepancies in the prosecution's narrative. The court questioned why the prosecutrix did not raise alarms during the alleged incident and highlighted doubts about the purported forcible relocation from her residence to the appellant Suresh's house.
Medical evidence also played a crucial role, with the absence of injuries on the prosecutrix suggesting the possibility of consensual activity before the examination. The Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report, revealing semen on the appellants' underwear but not on the prosecutrix's clothes or vaginal swab, added complexity to the case.
In light of these inconsistencies, the Supreme Court concluded that the prosecution failed to establish the case beyond a reasonable doubt, granting the appellants the benefit of the doubt. As a result, the Court granted the appeal and annulled the criticized judgment and order, marking a significant development in the legal landscape surrounding rape convictions.
Case: Ved Pal & Anr. vs. State of Haryana,
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1205 OF 2021
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