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This article is written by Mehak Jain, who is currently pursuing law at the Hidayatullah National Law University. This is an exhaustive article that aims to deal with the provisions of CrPC related to acquittal to provide a substantial understanding of the topic.

Introduction

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is the main legislation that deals with and lists out how the procedure of substantial criminal law is to proceed in India. Section 232 of the said code defines acquittal and its other provisions that delve into minutiae of orders of acquittal. In simple terms, acquittal means that the case has come to an end and the accused is not guilty of the charges pressed on him/her. There was no substantial evidence that indicated the accused to be guilty of committing an offence, and due to this reason, he shall be acquitted. It is not to be confused with discharge, since in discharge, the accused may be asked to show up again for further questioning.

Meaning of acquittal

Acquittal in general terms means that the accused is innocent and has not committed the offence he/she was accused of. The decision of acquittal is given by the judge after inspecting all the evidence and hearing arguments of the defence and the prosecution. It implies that no evidence has been brought up to prove that the accused has carried out an offence as per the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. 

It is defined in Section 232 of the said court. The order of acquittal may be given out by the judge or the magistrate(in certain cases).

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Relevant provisions under CrPC

Section 232- Acquittal

If the Judge, after examining the evidence and arguments by the prosecution and defense, is of the opinion that the accused is not guilty of the offence as he/she believes there is no evidence backing the blame, an order of acquittal shall be given.

Section 233- Entering upon defense

In case the accused is not acquitted as per Section 232, he/she is called to present any evidence as his/her defence to counter the accusation as per this section. The judge shall file a written statement submitted by the accused on record as well. If the accused demands the presentation of any person as a witness or the production of a thing or document as evidence, the judge has to take it into account and issue such a process, unless, the judge is of the opinion that these are mere tactics to cause a delay in the conclusion of the case.

Section 235- Judgment of acquittal or conviction

Section 235 states that after hearing out the arguments and points of law of the case, the judge shall deliver his/her decision. In case of conviction of the accused, the judge shall hear the accused on the question of sentence and pass it out according to law, unless the judge has followed provisions of Section 360 which deals with the release of the convict on probation due to good conduct or after admonition.

Section 248(1)- Acquittal by a magistrate

This section states that if the Magistrate finds the accused not guilty of any offence under this chapter, he/she shall order a sentence of acquittal.

Section 256- Non-appearance or death of the complainant

As per Section 256, if a date has been allotted on the basis of the complaint and on the said date for the appearance of the accused, or any other day to which the case might be adjourned to, the complainant is absent, the Magistrate is entitled to acquit the accused unless he/she is of the opinion that it might be proper to adjourn the hearing of the case to some other date. 

However, if the Magistrate thinks that the appearance of the complainant is not necessary or he/she is being represented by a pleader or the officer conducting the prosecution, the accused is not entitled to acquittal. This provision shall also be applicable where the absence of the complainant is due to his/her death.

Section 300- A person already acquitted/ convicted cannot be tried for the same offence twice

Section 300 states that a person who has been tried by a court of competent jurisdiction and has been acquitted/convicted thereby cannot be tried for the same offense again, or for a different offence while the facts remain the same while such acquittal/conviction is in force. It is based on the principle of “autrefois acquit” and double jeopardy.

However, with the consent of the State Government, a person acquitted/ convicted for an offense may be tried for another charge against him/her made at the former trial as per Section 220(1). According to Section 220(1) of the Code, if in the commission of any crime as per this Code, more than one offence is committed, the person responsible for such commission shall be liable to be tried for every offence in the same trial.

If the Court handing out the sentence of acquittal/conviction did not have competent jurisdiction over such a case, the person may be subsequently tried for another offence other than the one he/she has already been acquitted/convicted of.

A person discharged as per Section 258 shall not be tried for an offence he/she has already been tried for except with the consent of the Court responsible for such discharge or the consent of any other Court to which this Court is subordinate.

The provisions of Section 26 of the General Clauses Act, 1897, or Section 188 of this Code are to be unaffected by the provisions of this section since the dismissal of a complaint or discharge of the accused is not equivalent to the acquittal of the accused.

Illustrations-

A is a servant who is tried for the offence of theft and acquitted. He cannot be tried for the offence of theft again while the acquittal remains in force, provided that the facts are still the same.

Section 378- Appeal in cases of acquittal

The state government is entitled to direct the Public Prosecutor to present an appeal in the High Court from an order of acquittal (original or appellate) passed by the Court of Session of any court other than the High Court. This is subject to the following conditions-

  • Such an appeal shall be entertained only when the High Court grants leave.
  • In response to an application made by the complainant for grant of special leave by the High Court from an order of acquittal, the complainant can present it to the High Court. However, no such application shall be entertained after the expiry of a period of six months for a public servant, or the expiry of sixty days for other cases (calculated from the date of acquittal).

It is important to note that if an application to the High Court for grant of special leave is denied, no appeal from that order shall lie.

If the order of acquittal is passed in a case for which the offense was investigated by the Delhi Special Police Establishment or by any other agency which is empowered by any Central Act (other than the said Code) to carry out the investigation, the Central Government is entitled to direct the Public Prosecutor to present an appeal to the High Court from the order of acquittal, provided that, the leave from the High Court has been granted.

Difference between acquittal and discharge

  • Discharge is defined in Section 227 of the Code. If after hearing both the parties and examining evidence, the judge believes that there is no sufficient ground on which the case may move forward against the accused, he/she shall give an order for discharge and shall record his/her reasons for doing so. 

Acquittal is defined in Section 232. The judge gives an order of acquittal after reaching the conclusion that there is no evidence against the accused and he is not guilty of the commission of the offence.

  • Owing to the principles of autrefois acquit and double jeopardy, a person once acquitted for an offence can not be tried for the same offence again. However, a person who has been discharged may be rearrested for further questioning.
  • An order for acquittal is given after full inquiry and trial of a case has been concluded. Its a judicial decision that is given after the innocence of the accused has been established. However, a person is discharged because no further evidence could be found to justify further inquiry against him/ her. The discharge doesn’t prove that a person is innocent.
  • A discharge allows fresh proceedings in case more material evidence comes up. However, an acquittal does not allow a second trial on the same offence or a different offence relating to the same facts.

                     

Landmark Judgments

Mallikarjun Kodagali v. State of Karnataka

In this case, on December 30, 2009, the Parliament had amended Section 372 of the CrPC so that it now allows the victim to file an appeal against any order passed by the Court, if according to the victim, the accused was wrongly acquitted, or convicted less stringent, or he/she feels that the compensation has been inadequate.

The legal representatives of Mallikarjun Kodagali had filed an appeal at the Karnataka High Court on behalf of Mr. Kodagali who was deceased. The appeal referred to a judgment by the High Court upholding a decision to acquit an MLA and others alleged to have attacked Kodagali in Bagalkot. The High Court had dismissed the appeal as the death of Kodagali made the appeal unmaintainable.

The issue was whether the petitioner should get the benefits of the said amended provision of CrPC as when the initial judgment was given, no such provision was in force.

Justice M B Lokur while giving out the majority decision said that Section 372 of CrPC which deals with appeals in respect to acquittal orders should be given a “realistic, liberal, progressive” interpretation so as to benefit the victim. He further referred to a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly which held that the victim besides the state shall also be entitled to present an appeal against the acquittal of the accused.

This was a landmark judgment which recognized the victim’s right to appeal and ruled that the victim can file for an appeal in case he/she is of the belief that proper sentence has not been given.

Champalal Kapoorchand Jain v. Navyug Cloth Stores

Out of 31 dates for a hearing of the case, the complainant was absent on 11 occasions. On the 31st occasion as well, the complainant and his advocate were not present and the judge concluded the case and gave out the decision.

The Metropolitan Magistrate gave out an order of acquittal to the respondent (who was the accused in the case) due to the absence of the complainant.

The complainant along with his advocate then went on to file an appeal stating that the advocate had misheard the upcoming date which was the reason for their absence and challenged the order of the metropolitan magistrate.

The Court observed that as per the provisions of Section 256, the complainant must be present on every date of the hearing unless his presence is deemed to be unnecessary by the magistrate, which wasn’t so in this case. The magistrate had already accused 11 disappearances already. This provision gives the Magistrate wide powers. He must ensure that the accused gets his right to a speedy trial as the case cannot go on for perpetuity.

The court did not find any substance in the pleas and dismissed the appeal consequently.

Conclusion

The acquittal procedure is necessary to ensure that nobody is punished for an offence they did not commit. Further modifications have also given the victim, in addition to the state, to file for appeals in courts if they feel that the accused has been wrongly acquitted. This measure is an essential safeguard to the acquittal procedure and is the crux of one of the fundamental principles of criminal law and the Code of Criminal Procedure.


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