Tuesday 25 May 2021

Whether court can convict an accused of a minor offence if he charged for a major offence?

 28. We may also make a reference to another three-Judge Bench judgment of this Court in the case of Shamnsaheb M.

Multtani vs. State of Karnataka [(2001) 2 SCC 577] which was not noticed in the case of Dalbir Singh (supra). In that case, the accused initially had been charged with an offence under  Section 302 IPC but was convicted for an offence under Section 304B IPC as according to the High Court there was no failure of justice. This Court found error in the judgment of the High Court convicting the accused of an offence under Section 304B as the accused was not put at notice of the adverse presumption that the Court is statutorily bound to draw on satisfaction of two ingredients of Section 304-B.

Therefore, this Court remanded the matter. It also noticed the conflict of views expressed in the cases of Lakhjit Singh (supra) and Sanagaraboina Sreenu (supra) and mentioned that in `cognate offences', the main ingredients are common and the one amongst them that is punishable with a lesser sentence can be regarded as a minor offence. The Court, finding that the ingredients of Sections 302 and 304B are different, held as follows:

"15. Section 222(1) of the Code deals with a case "when a person is charged with an offence consisting of several particulars". The section permits the court to convict the accused "of the minor offence, though he was not charged with it". Sub-section (2) deals with a similar, but slightly different situation.
"222. (2) When a person is charged with an offence and facts are proved which reduce it to a minor offence, he may be convicted of the minor offence, although he is not charged with it."

16. What is meant by "a minor offence"

for the purpose of Section 222 of the Code? Although the said expression is not defined in the Code it can be discerned from the context that the test of minor offence is not merely that the prescribed punishment is less than the major offence. The two illustrations provided in the section would bring the above point home well. Only if the two offences are cognate offences, wherein the main ingredients are common, the one punishable among them with a lesser sentence can be regarded as minor offence vis-`-vis the other offence.

17. The composition of the offence under Section 304-B IPC is vastly different from the formation of the offence of murder under Section 302 IPC and hence the former cannot be regarded as minor offence vis-`-vis the latter. However, the position would be different when the charge also contains the offence under Section 498-A IPC (husband or relative of husband of a women subjecting her to cruelty). As the word "cruelty" is explained as including, inter alia, "harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand".

18. So when a person is charged with an offence under Sections 302 and 498-A IPC on the allegation that he caused the death of a bride after subjecting her to harassment with a demand for dowry, within a period of 7 years of marriage, a situation may arise, as in this case, that the offence of murder is not established as against the accused. Nonetheless, all other ingredients necessary for the offence under Section 304-B IPC would stand established. Can the accused be convicted in such a case for the offence under Section 304-B IPC without the said offence forming part of the charge?


30. But the peculiar situation in respect of an offence under Section 304-B IPC, as discernible from the distinction pointed out above in respect of the offence under Section 306 IPC is this:

Under the former the court has a statutory compulsion, merely on the establishment of two factual positions enumerated above, to presume that the accused has committed dowry death. If any accused wants to escape from the said catch the burden is on him to disprove it. If he fails to rebut the presumption the court is bound to act on it.

31. Now take the case of an accused who was called upon to defend only a charge under Section 302 IPC. The burden of proof never shifts onto him. It ever remains on the prosecution which has to prove the charge beyond all reasonable doubt. The said traditional legal concept remains unchanged even now. In such a case the accused can wait till the prosecution evidence is over and then to show that the prosecution has failed to make out the said offence against him.

No compulsory presumption would go to the assistance of the prosecution in such a situation. If that be so, when an accused has no notice of the offence under Section 304-B IPC, as he was defending a charge under Section 302 IPC alone, would it not lead to a grave miscarriage of justice when he is alternatively convicted under Section 304-B IPC and sentenced to the serious punishment prescribed thereunder, which mandates a minimum sentence of imprisonment for seven years.

32. The serious consequence which may ensue to the accused in such a situation can be limned through an illustration: If a bride was murdered within seven years of her marriage and there was evidence to show that either on the previous day or a couple of days earlier she was subjected to harassment by her husband with demand for dowry, such husband would be guilty of the offence on the language of Section 304-B IPC read with Section 113-B of the Evidence Act. But if the murder of his wife was actually committed either  by a dacoit or by a militant in a terrorist act the husband can lead evidence to show that he had no hand in her death at all. If he succeeds in discharging the burden of proof he is not liable to be convicted under Section 304-B IPC. But if the husband is charged only under Section 302 IPC he has no burden to prove that his wife was murdered like that as he can have his traditional defence that the prosecution has failed to prove the charge of murder against him and claim an order of acquittal.


Supreme Court of India
Rafiq Ahmed @ Rafi vs State Of U.P on 4 August, 2011
Author: S Kumar

Bench: B.S. Chauhan, Swatanter Kumar
Print Page

No comments:

Post a Comment