A division Bench of Justices Pratap Hardas and Ashok Bhangale said, "The criminal court has to bear in mind that if two views are possible upon the evidence led – one pointing towards guilt of the accused while the other towards his innocence – then the one favourable to the accused should be adopted to prevent miscarriage of justice which can result by conviction of an innocent."
On this basis, the Nagpur bench of the court acquitted a woman who was accused of killing another woman by setting her on fire.
On October 14 last year, Sharifabi (66), from Amravati, was convicted by a sessions court for setting on fire Shaydabi, following which the latter died.
Sharifabi was sentenced to life imprisonment, based on the deceased's dying declaration.
However, she challenged the verdict in High Court and her counsel Rajendra Daga contended that the trial court had erred in relying solely on the dying declaration as there was no witness or other evidence to corroborate it.
While the incident occurred at around 2 pm, the dying declaration was recorded at 8.15 PM, indicating a huge time gap. "The time lapse gives scope for tutoring, prompting and imagination," she said.
The bench was also of the view that there was no witness or evidence to show Sharifabi's bad motive. Until and unless the dying declaration is truthful and voluntary and not tutored or doctored, conviction solely on that basis is not possible, it said.
"The court must be satisfied that the deceased was in a fit mental state to make the declaration and must ensure that the dying declaration was not the result of tutoring, prompting or imagination," the judges said.
While quashing Sharifabi's life sentence and ordering her acquittal, the High Court said, "...there was no convincing evidence to impute criminal liability positively to the accused in the absence of wholly reliable and acceptable evidence. The accused is, therefore, entitled to the benefit of doubt."