28 May 2121

Death of married women within or approx. one year of marriage the cause can be concluded as due to dowry but the assumption of abetment to suicide can’t be held till proven - Supreme Court of India

Case : Satbir Singh & Anr. v. State of Haryana Criminal Law Appeal Nos. 1735-1736 of 2010

Court : Supreme Court of India

Bench : Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana and Justice Aniruddha Bose

Decided on : 28 May 2121

Relevant Statutes

Section 304-B, Section 306 of Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961)

Section 498-A of Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983)

Section 113-A, B of the Evidence Act, 1872

Section 232, 233, 313 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Brief Facts & Procedural History

1. The deceased and the accused(appellant) are married. After a year of marriage, some people informed the complainant/father of the deceased that his daughter is seriously ill and admitted to the hospital. Till the complainant along with his family reached the hospital the daughter(deceased) had already died due to burn injuries. The prosecution claimed that the deceased committed suicide by lighting herself on fire, only after one year of marriage and that she was subjected to cruelty and abuse both by the accused shortly before her death because she brought less dowry.

2. The Trial Court convicted the accused for the offences punishable under Section 304-B and 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The accused appeals in the High Court and there also the judgment of the Trial Court was upheld. After that, he appealed in the Honourable Supreme Court of India challenging the judgment.

The Issue of the Case

Whether the impugned judgment dated 6 November 2008 passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana valid?

The Observations of the Court

1. Referring to the case Kans Raj v. State of Punjab (2000) 5 SCC 207, the expression “soon before” in section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 cannot be interpreted to mean “immediately before”. The prosecution must show that there is a “direct and live connection” between the dowry death and the husband’s or relatives’ brutality or abuse of the dowry demand.

2. Honourable Supreme Court of India also observes that the prosecution must first prove the presence of the elements that make up an offence under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code,1860. Once these conditions are met, the rebuttable presumption of causation established by Section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872 works against the accused.

3. Honourable Supreme Court of India also observes that in defining death as homicidal, suicidal, or accidental, Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 does not use a pigeonhole method. The reason for this lack of categorization is because death that occurs "other than under normal conditions" might be violent, suicide, or accidental in certain situations.

4. Honourable Supreme Court of India also observes that once the Trial Court determines that the accused is not eligible for acquittal under Section 232 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973, it must schedule hearings specifically for ‘defence evidence,' allowing the accused to present his defence under Section 233 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which is also a valuable right granted to the accused.

5. Honourable Supreme Court of India also observes that the threat of dowry death is becoming more prevalent by the day. However, it has been noticed that family members of the spouse are occasionally enlisted, even though they had no active participation in the crime and live in different locations. In these circumstances, the Court must proceed with caution.

6. Referring to the case Wazir Chand v. State of Haryana, (1989) 1 SCC 244, there must be established that the deceased had committed suicide before the person is convicted for the abetment to suicide. But in the present case, committing suicide is just an assumption.

7. Honourable Supreme Court of India also observes that even the presumption under Section 113A of Evidence Act, 1872 is of no use to the prosecution since there was insufficient evidence to establish the existence of suicide beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecutor has not shown sufficient proof to show the basic ingredient of the deceased committing suicide.

The Decision Held by the Court

1. Honourable Supreme Court of India upheld the judgment of the Trial Court and the High Court till the extend to convicting the appellants under section 304-B of Indian Penal Code,1860 and step down the part of conviction under section 306 of Indian Penal Code,1860.

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