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Nishi Kant Jha vs State of Bihar (1968)

This article is written by Sakshi Kuthari. It discusses all the details one should learn about while reading about the landmark judgement of Nishi Kant Jha v. State of Bihar, given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in 1968. This judgement held that if the exculpatory part of the statement or admission conflicts with the circumstantial evidence, it will be disregarded and the remaining incriminatory statement will be regarded as confession for the purpose of determining the guilt of the accused.

This article has been written by Rachit Garg.

Introduction

At the time of a criminal trial, the prosecution tries to the fullest extent to establish the guilt of the accused by presenting incriminating evidence,  which aims to secure a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. Any such type of evidence which substantiates the accused’s guilt is known as “inculpatory evidence”. On the contrary, the role of the defence is to instil doubt in the judge’s mind regarding the guilt of the accused. It is a fundamental rule of criminal jurisprudence that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, the burden of proving the innocence rests not on the accused but on exemplifying a preponderance of probability in their favour by casting doubt on their guilt. 

Since, the result of a criminal trial rests on proving the guilt of the accused, the prosecution emphasises on inculpatory evidence. However, within the realm of criminal trials, there exists another type of evidence with the probability of absolving the accused from guilt. This evidence, known as ‘exculpatory evidence’, assists the defence by fostering doubt in the mind of the court or even proving the innocence of the accused, though such proof of innocence is not mandatory. In the case of Nishi Kant Jha v. State of Bihar (1968), the Apex Court had ruled that if the confession or admission which is exculpatory in nature contradicts the available circumstantial evidence, the exculpatory part of the evidence will not be taken into account. The remaining inculpatory part of the evidence will be deemed to be a confession, thereby corroborating the accused’s guilt.

In this article, we will be delving into the landmark case of Nishi Kant Jha v. State of Bihar (1968), which relates to significant aspects of the law of evidence and other relevant issues pertinent to the criminal procedure involving criminal trials. Additionally, the article explains in detail the laws involved in the Nishi Kant Jha case

Details of the case

Case name: Nishi Kant Jha vs. State of Bihar

Case no.: Criminal Appeal No. 190 (N) of 1966

Type of case: Criminal Case

Name of the court: Supreme Court

Bench: M. Hidayatullah (Chief Justice), G.K. Mitter, J.C. Shah, V. Ramaswami, A.N. Grover

Date of the judgement: 02 December 1968

Equivalent citations: 1969 AIR 422, 1969 SCR (1) 1033

Name of the parties: Nishi Kant Jha (Appellant) and State of Bihar (Respondent)

Laws involved in the case: Sections 201 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 & Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Facts of the case 

In this case, the appellant in the city of Jhajha was a school student. He was charged under Section 201 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 on 12th October, 1961 for the murder of his friend who studied with him in the same school. The accused and the deceased were travelling together in the Barauni Sealdah passenger train. When the train had reached the Madhupur Station, the deceased’s body was recovered from the lavatory of the first class compartment. There was a lot of blood on the floor of the lavatory and the dead body was found with a deep neck cut besmeared with blood. One Ram Kishore Pandey found the appellant washing blood-stained clothes with soap one hour before sunset on the same day when the incident took place. He noticed that the appellant had a cut on his left hand. When Kishore asked the appellant about his injury, he answered that the news spread like fire in a nearby village that a murder had taken place in the Barauni Sealdah passenger train and the murderer was missing. The appellant, Nishi Kant, was under the suspicion of murder. He was chased, arrested, and brought before the Mukhiya of the village. He gave a contradictory statement to what he had given to Ram Kishore. He stated that when boarded the first-class compartment of the Barauni Sealdah passenger train at Jhajha, he saw an unknown person sitting in it. Lal Mohan Sharma entered into the compartment when the train had reached somewhere near Simultala. When the train stopped at Jasedeeh station and the appellant was about to get down at this station, Lal Mohan Sharma did not let him go. However, when the train had started to move ahead, Lal Mohan Sharma took the unknown person into the lavatory and began to beat him. The appellant when standing for the unknown person’s rescue, Lal Mohan Sharma caught hold of his hand and injured his left forefinger with a knife. He claimed Lal Mohan Sharma asked him not to open the window and door, due to which he got afraid and sat quietly in that compartment. At the same time, he killed the unknown person. Lal Mohan Sharma jumped down from the running train and fled away when the train was about to reach Mathurapur. The appellant also jumped down on the other side of Patro River near Madhupur and fled away because of the fear of apprehension of arrest for the murder of the deceased. However, a peculiar thing to be noted was that the blood stains on the clothes of the accused matched with the blood sample of the deceased.

The Hon’ble Patna High Court accepted only the inculpatory part of the statements of the appellants and rejected the exculpatory statements. These statements were made by him before his arrest in front of the village Mukhiya along with other evidence, found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to imprisonment for life. The appellant then filed an appeal to the Hon’ble Supreme Court challenging the decision of the Hon’ble High Court.

Issues raised in the case

The following issues were raised by the appellant in this case:

  1. Whether the statement was given by the accused and taken by the Mukhiya of the village before the arrest was admissible as evidence or not?
  2. Whether the court can dismiss the exculpatory part of the statement and consider the inculpatory part for the purpose of convicting the accused?

Arguments of the parties

Appellant

The appellant contended that:

  1. The statements given by the appellant under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 were rebutted by him as to the involvement in the crime of murder of the victim. He claimed to have gotten injuries at another place due to a fight with a cowboy which had resulted in bloodstains on his clothes and books.
  2. He admitted that he was taken to the village Mukhias’s house, where he alleged that he was coerced into signing a blank paper after being assaulted and threatened.
  3. He also argued that the statements recorded by the Mukhiya of the village before handing him over to the police were not admissible as evidence; and if admissible, the statements must be considered in its entirety, with no selective acceptance of one part while disregarding another.

Respondent

The respondent averred that:

  1. Based on the incriminating part of the evidence, the appellant accepted his statement that Lal Mohan Sharma had threatened to kill him in case he tried to open the door or window of the compartment and that he had travelled along with an unknown person, who was subsequently identified as the victim. The victim was also in the same compartment as that of the appellant highlights this as conclusive evidence to prove his guilt and the further statement of Lal Mohan Sharma’s threat to kill him should be rejected.
  2. After the appellant had jumped off the train, he became apprehensive about being arrested for the murder of the said deceased person. The respondent also averred that the incident occurred near the Patro river and that there was a chance to consider that if Lal Mohan Sharma intended to commit the murder of the deceased, he would have surely prevented the appellant from getting off the train at Jasedeeh station because the appellant could have been a witness who could identify him and testify to his involvement in the crime.
  3. Lal Mohan Sharma was not present on the train at Jhajha. There was no information provided regarding any quarrel between him and the deceased that could have prompted him to attack the deceased. There did not seem any motive for Lal Mohan Sharma to attack the victim. Also, it was difficult to believe that Lal Mohan Sharma would not have attempted to harm the appellant as well.
  4. The appellant’s statement of sustaining the injuries on his left forefinger in the railway compartment deemed implausible. Similarly, his narrative of a confrontation with a cowboy resulting in an injury on his left forefinger lacked credibility. The cause for the cowboy’s verbal abuse towards the appellant, followed by an attack on his person, seems to be fictitious.
  5. The only injury sustained by the appellant on his left forefinger was superficial, casting doubt on the claim that the injury was severe enough to require washing his clothes in the river. Moreover, this injury does not explain the presence of blood stains on other items such as his belt, shoes and books, which were apparently attempted to be removed by washing.

Judgement of Patna High Court 

The Hon’ble Patna High Court found the appellant guilty of the charge of murder and sentenced him to imprisonment for life. On the basis of the following mentioned incriminating circumstantial evidence against the appellant, the conviction was done:

  1. Just two hours after the murder, the appellant was found washing his blood-soaked clothes at the edge of the Patro river;
  2. During his apprehension of getting caught by Ram Kishore and others, he was found in possession of blood-stained books;
  3. He had a 9-inches knife in his possession;
  4. Medical injuries suggested that the injuries sustained by the victim could have been inflicted by the knife which was found in the possession of the appellant;
  5. Apart from the injury on the forefinger of the appellant, the other injuries on the appellant’s body were consistent with a struggle with the victim inside the compartment of the train;
  6. The explanation given by the appellant regarding the presence of the blood-stained clothes and other items, as well as the injuries on his body, was deemed unacceptable.  

Issue wise judgement in appeal to the Supreme Court

  1. Whether the statement was given by the accused and taken by the Mukhiya of the village before the arrest was admissible as evidence or not?

The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the argument asserted by the appellant that the statement was not given voluntarily and therefore should not be admitted as evidence is groundless. None of the individuals who accompanied the appellant to the Mukhiya were suggested to have assaulted him, nor was it implied that the appellant was coerced or threatened into making the statement. Furthermore, the appellant’s claim that he was forced to sign a blank piece of paper undermines his assertion that the statement was made under duress or coercion, as obtaining his signature would have sufficed in that scenario.

  1. Whether the court can dismiss the exculpatory part of the statement and consider the inculpatory part for the purpose of convicting the accused?

The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the two contradictory statements given by the appellant were not capable of admission. In one statement, the appellant claimed that the injury occurred on his left forefinger was due to a scuffle that took place between him and the cowboy. In another statement, he said that the injury was while protecting himself from the attack  by Mohan Lal in the compartment of the train. When the court completely took the context of the case, the bench was of the opinion that the exculpatory part of the statement made to the Mukhiya of the village was not only inherently improbable but also contradicted by other evidence. Therefore, it was appropriately dismissed, while the incriminating part of the statement was rightly acknowledged by the court.

Laws discussed in the case

Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 

Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 gives power to the court to examine the accused. For the purpose of fulfilling the principle of natural justice (audi alteram partem, i.e., no one should be left unheard), this provision is used by the court to question the accused. It entails that the accused may be requested to provide an explanation relating to the incriminating circumstances attributed to the court, and it must duly consider such explanations given by the accused. In cases which involve the presence of circumstantial evidence at the time of determining the guilt of the accused, it is essential to determine whether the chain of circumstances is complete or not.

In the present case, Nishi Kant Jha v. State of Bihar, the appellant did not confess before the Hon’ble Patna High Court that he had told anyone about being attacked by a cowboy and injuring his left forefinger with glass while passing through Gangamarni. Instead, the appellant stated that he had a confrontation with a cowboy when asked about directions, during which the cowboy attempted to assault him with a sharp knife, leading to the injury. His account of Lal Mohan Sharma threatening him against opening the train’s compartment door or window and subsequently murdering the victim, as well as how he sustained his injury varied from the statement he made earlier. The Hon’ble High Court also rejected the appellant’s explanation that he had lost his way to his sister’s village in Roshan and suffered an injury as he claimed in his statement. Despite the serious incriminating circumstances outlined by the High Court, it was insufficient to establish the appellant’s guilt unless a part of Lal Mohan Sharma’s threat statement was considered alongside them. Only this statement acknowledged that he was travelling on the Barauni passenger train in a compartment where he witnessed a murder and subsequently jumped out near the river Patro before reaching Madhupur. Excluding the inadmissible portion of Lal Mohan Sharma’s threat statement, the entirety of the evidence leads to the unavoidable conclusion of the appellant’s guilt.

Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for the offence of disappearance of evidence for the offence committed by the accused. If the said act is done to cause any evidence of the commission of that offence to disappear, so as to screen the accused from punishment provided by the law for the wrong done, or or with that intention gives any information respecting the offence which he knows or believes to be false then the following would be the consequences:

If the accused is aware that the committed offence is punishable with death, they shall face imprisonment for up to seven years and may also be fined;

  1. If the offence carries a punishment of life imprisonment, or imprisonment of up to ten years, the accused shall be imprisoned for up to three years and may also be fined.
  2. For offences punishable by less than ten years of imprisonment, the accused shall be imprisoned for a term that is one-fourth of the maximum term provided for the offence, or fined, or both

In this case, the appellant was charged under this section because Ram Kishore Pandey, found the appellant washing blood-stained clothes with soap one hour before sunset on the same day when the incident took place.

Section 302 of the  Indian Penal Code, 1860 

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides punishment for murder. Any person commits murder shall be punished with death sentence, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to pay fine.

The Hon’ble Patna High Court and Supreme Court in this case held the appellant guilty under Section 302 of the Act because all the evidence accused in the Court turned out to be against him.

In Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab (1980), Bachan Singh was tried and convicted for the murders he had committed. He was sentenced to death under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code by the Sessions Judge. The question regarding the constitutional validity of the death penalty for murder under Section 302 was raised in this case. A five-bench judge of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the death penalty as an alternative punishment for murder under Section 302 IPC as not unreasonable and, hence, not violative of Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution. The doctrine of the rarest of rare cases was established in this case. The Supreme Court observed that it was essential to take into consideration not only the circumstances of the case but also the circumstances of the offender. Similar situations in different cases should be taken into account at the time of trial. The judgement is to be given only after referring to all those similar cases. 

Judgements related to the case

Emperor vs. Balmukund (1930)

In Emperor vs. Balmukund (1930) the Hon’ble Full Bench of the Allahabad High Court observed while determining the guilt of the accused and the confession made, it comprised two elements. Firstly, an account of how the accused killed the women and secondly, an account of the accused’s reasons for doing so. The former elements are inculpatory and the letter is exculpatory.

The question referred to the Full Bench was that whether the court if it is of the opinion that the inculpatory part of the statement commends itself, and the exculpatory part of the statement is inherently incredible, act upon the former and refuse to act upon the latter? The answer to which the Hon’ble Court gave that where there is no other evidence to show affirmatively that any part of the exculpatory statement in the confession is false, the court must accept or reject the confession as a whole and cannot accept only the incriminatory statement while rejecting the exculpatory statement as inherently incredible.

Hanumant Govind Nargundkar & Anr. vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (1952)

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Hanumant Govind Nargundkar & Anr. vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (1952) observed that the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn, it should be fully established. Then all the facts to be established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused. It is necessary the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and they should be such as to exclude every hypothesis but the one proposed to be proved. In other words, it can be said that there must always be a complete chain of evidence as not to leave any reasonable ground for a conclusion consistent with the accused’s innocence and it must be such as to show within all human probability the act must have been done by the accused only.

Palvinder Kaur vs. State of Punjab (1952)

In Palvinder Kaur vs. State of Punjab (1952), the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that confession and admission must either be wholly accepted or rejected and the court is not in any way competent to accept only the inculpatory part while rejecting the exculpatory part as inherently incredible. The confession must either admit in terms the offence or at any rate, substantially all the facts should constitute the offence. The admission of gravely incriminating fact, even conclusively incriminating fact is not by itself a confession. The statement that contains self-exculpatory or other matter cannot amount to confession, if the exculpatory statement is of the same facts which, if true, would negate the offence alleged to the confessed. The statement which when read as a whole is of an exculpatory character and in which the prisoner denies his guilt is not confession, and cannot be used in the evidence to prove the guilt. 

Bhagwan Singh vs. State of Haryana (1976)

In  Bhagwan Singh vs. State of Haryana (1976), the inculpatory part of the statement of the appellant was corroborated by other satisfactory evidence on the record in the material particulars. Consequently, the Court admitted the inculpatory part of the statement and the exculpatory part was rejected. This case constituted an exception to the rule that confession should be taken as a whole.

Conclusion

From the very beginning of criminal jurisprudence, the burden of proving the guilt of the accused has lied upon the prosecution. The accused is always presumed innocent until proven guilty. There is a requirement of a higher standard of proof which could demonstrate the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Consequently, this places the prosecution at a disadvantage, often leading them to emphasise the incriminating evidence while disregarding the exculpatory evidence. Acquiring and substantiating exculpatory evidence poses a considerable challenge, as it poses the burden of proof onto the accused and necessitates impeccable quality of evidence. Nonetheless, it is significant to understand these principles, as the suppression of exculpatory evidence can cause the miscarriage of justice, and when presented, it serves as the most formidable evidence for the accused.

It can thus be concluded from this case that both the High Court and Supreme Court did no wrong in relying on a part of the statement and rejecting the rest. The Court did not mean to overrule Palvinder, Hanumant or Balmukund’s judgement but distinguished the present case from them. Here both the Courts had sufficient evidence to reject the exculpatory part of the statement of the appellant. It is completely the discretion of the court to absolve the exculpatory statement and consider only the incriminatory statement for the purpose of determining the guilt of the accused. However, the court must always weigh both the aspects of the inculpatory and exculpatory statements presented by the prosecution to decide on the conviction of the accused, just as done in this case. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do you mean by the term “confession”?

The term “confession” has not been defined in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (now the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, 2023. James Stephen made an attempt to define ‘confession’ in terms of which ‘admission’ is defined in Section 17 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (now Section 15 of the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, 2023) stating that “a confession is an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime suggesting the inference that a person has committed a crime.”

Thus, according to the definition of Stephen, an admission amounts to a confession, if the accused:

  1. States that a crime has been committed by him; or
  2. Makes a statement by which he does not clearly admit guilt, yet from the statement some inference may be drawn that he might have committed the crime.

What do you mean by Inculpatory and Exculpatory Statements?

The provisions related to confessions are provided from Sections 24-30 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872 (now Section 22-24 of the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, 2023). Specific guidelines controlling the admissibility of statements and confessions in court are outlined in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

A statement made by a person admitting to having committed a crime is known as an ‘Inculpatory Statement.’ In criminal proceedings, inculpatory statements play a vital role in determining the guilt of the accused. The statements given by the accused are of such a nature that clear evidence is present to punish the accused for the offence committed. The rules for admissibility of such statements given under the Evidence Act, 1872 should be strictly adhered to. It must be made sure that at the time of recording the inculpatory statements, the accused must not be under provocation, coercion, or inducement. Such statements should be made voluntarily. When the defendant confesses to the wrongdoing, inculpatory statements act as strong proof of guilt. Despite having the potential to strongly get away with criminal proceedings, the Evidence Act, 1872 places stringent limitations on their admissibility.

‘Exculpatory Statements’ are those statements in which an accused person asserts his or her innocence of the charges against him or her. At the time of criminal trial, these kinds of statements help the defence to present the case. These statements are also subject to the principles of admissibility under the Evidence Act, 1872. Whatever statements are made by the accused and provide the accused with defence can be utilised in the court. Such statements should be made willingly, comprehensively, and self-explanatory to be accepted at the time of trial of the accused. Confessions to crimes gained under duress, provocation, or intimidation are inadmissible in court.

These two types of statements do not clearly offer a clear admission of guilt or innocence, admissions related to acquittals can be regarded as indirect proof of innocence. However, in a criminal trial, such statements could be highly convincing evidence as they can bolster the defence’s stance or substantiate a proof of alibi.

Is there any exception to the rule that confessions should be always taken as whole?

There are at present two exceptions to the general rule that confessions should be always taken as a whole. They are as follows:

  1. In Bhagwan Singh vs. State of Haryana (1976), the Hon’ble Apex Court had held that it is permissible to believe one part of the confessional statement which is an inculpatory statement and if there is any other evidence to prove its correctness; and
  2. In the present case of Nishi Kant Jha vs. the State of Bihar (1968), the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that if the exculpatory part of the statement is inherently improbable and incredible it may be completely rejected and the inculpatory part of the statement may be admitted to prove the guilt of the accused.

What necessary strategies could be used by a defence lawyer for handling inculpatory statements ?’

A strategic and methodological approach should be adopted by a defence lawyer to deal with the inculpatory statements made against the accused. Various tactics should be used by the lawyers so that the credibility, integrity, or understanding of evidence against the accused comes into question. Some of the tactics which could be deployed are as follows:

  1. Cross-examination: From the beginning of the trial till the end of the trial, the defence lawyer can scrutinise the witnesses who furnish inculpatory statements or evidence culminating the differences or potential prejudices.
  2. Testimony of the expert: Involving expert witnesses at the time of trial of the case can aid in disputing the scientific validity or interpretation of the inculpatory evidence, such as forensic analysis or DNA testing.
  3. Suppression Motions: If the defence advocate is of the opinion and under suspicion that the inculpatory evidence adduced against the accused are obtained unlawfully or infringes upon the rights of the accused, the advocate can submit a suppression motion to rule out that part of the evidence from the criminal trial.
  4. Alternative Explanations: The defence lawyer can offer alternative hypotheses or narratives that cast doubt on the understanding or importance of the inculpatory evidence.

References

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