The 33-year-old man was accused of raping and murdering a woman in 2011, but only the latter charge was upheld by a Sessions Court.

Auto driver who was awarded death penalty for murder acquitted by Ktaka HC
news Crime Friday, June 22, 2018 - 14:51

Awarded the death penalty for the murder of a woman by a lower court, an autorickshaw driver was acquitted by the Karnataka High Court.

33-year-old Shafeen* was accused of raping and murdering a middle-aged woman in 2011. He was charged under sections 302 (murder), 394 (voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery), 201 (Causing disappearance of evidence or giving false information to screen the offender), and 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code.

A Sessions Court in Bidar had acquitted him of the rape charge but convicted him under the other three sections. The judge had also sentenced him to death under section 302, imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 and a default sentence of two years. Further, he was a sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for six and three years respectively under Section 394 and 201, besides a fine of Rs 10,000 for each; along with a default sentence of simple imprisonment of a year for each offence.

While Shafeen was convicted by the Sessions Court, two other accused were acquitted by the judge.

In its June 14 order, the Karnataka High Court, however, acquitted Shafeen of all charges. According to a Live Law report, the court held that under Section 25 of the Evidence Act, “no confession of an offence made to a police officer can be proved against an accused.”

Section 26 [of the Evidence Act] further prohibits proof of such confession made before others also if at the time of making such statement accused is in police custody, and only exception to this Section is confession made before Magistrate,” a bench of Justice Ravi Malimath and Justice Sreenivas Harish Kumar added.

Further, the Sessions Court had taken into account that the deceased woman’s jewellery was found in Shafeen’s possession based on his own confession. “His failure to explain as to how he could possess the jewellery of the deceased, when he was examined under Section 313 of CrPC, provides a missing link,” it observed.

The Sessions Court also noted, “There were series of murders of women mysteriously and the cases were being investigated by one police officer before whom accused made a disclosure by giving a confession statement.” This narration is what apparently led to the recovery of the jewellery as well.

The lower court designated this as the rarest of rare case considering the Shafeen had murdered “three women within a short span of time” without remorse and was therefore “a danger to entire women folk in the society”.

“The fiduciary relationship exists between a driver and a passenger and if such a situation, especially when a woman travels in an autorickshaw, is exploited, it cannot be excused. It is held further that the acquittal of first accused in another case is no ground, as in that case he was acquitted not for the reason that he was innocent, but the case was not proved. Therefore a rarest of rare case is made out (sic),” the Sessions Court said.

The Karnataka High Court, while concurring with the lower court that the woman’s death was a clear case of culpable homicide amounting to murder, questioned whether it was possible to tie Shafeen to the crime – especially given that the other two accused were acquitted by the Sessions Court.

Apart from setting aside the Sessions Court order on the basis of the relevant sections of the Evidence Act, the High Court also said that it could be not independently corroborated that the jewellery found on Shafeen’s person indeed belonged to the deceased woman. It upheld the defendant’s argument that “mere seizure of jewellery and some other material objects does not lead to involvement of first accused, there is no proof that the seized jewellery belonged to the deceased.”

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