Act of Killing Happened During A Fit of Anger In The Heat of A Passionate Verbal Quarrel Is Not Murder: SC

It must be noted that the Supreme Court in a most learned, laudable, logical, landmark and latest judgment titled Mariappan v State Rep. By Inspector Of Police in Criminal Appeal No. 3598 of 2023 @ SLP(Crl.) No. 15192 of 2023 Diary No. 14840 of 2023 cited in Neutral Citation No. : 2023 INSC 1034 that was pronounced as recently as on November 24, 2023 in the exercise of its criminal appellate jurisdiction has set aside the murder conviction of an accused observing that his act of killing happened during a fit of anger in the heat of a passionate verbal quarrel. The Court to substantiate what it held relied and invoked Exception 4 of Section 300 and convicted him for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. It merits mentioning that the Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Vikram Nath and Hon’ble Mr Justice Rajesh Bindal minced just no words to hold that, “Hence, it can be safely concluded from the evidence led in the present case that the appellant’s overt act of killing the deceased happened during a fit of anger in the heat of a passionate verbal quarrel and would fall under Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC. Moreover, the clear intent needed to prove culpable homicide amounting to murder has also not been established by the prosecution.”

It must be mentioned that the Trial Court had convicted them under Section 302 of the IPC and sentenced them to life imprisonment. On similar lines, we saw that the High Court also affirmed the order. Finally, on being aggrieved we see that the appellant approached the Supreme Court challenging the judgment and order.

The Bench observed that the appellant had abruptly stabbed the deceased during a heated verbal argument rather than a preplanned attack with intent to cause death. The appellant’s actions were characterized as impulsive, occurring suddenly in the heat of passion and without a pre-planned intention to kill the deceased. We thus see that the Court partly allowed the appeal considering the attenuating circumstances and modified the punishment of 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.

At the very outset, this remarkable, robust, rational and recent judgment authored by Hon’ble Mr Justice Vikram Nath for a Bench of the Apex Court comprising of himself and Hon’ble Mr Justice Rajesh Bindal sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “This appeal assails the correctness of the final Judgment and Order dated 22.04.2016 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Madras in Criminal Appeal No.151 of 2013 whereby the High Court has dismissed the appeal of the present appellant and confirmed the order of conviction under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 18601 and awarding life sentence passed on 05.10.2012 by the Trial Court.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 2 that, “The facts of the case in brief are as follows:

2.1 The case involves the offence of culpable homicide committed by the present appellant. The present appellant was accused no.1 before the Trial Court in S.C.No.177 of 2010 on the file of the learned IV Additional District & Session Judge, Erode District, at Bhavani. While the other two accused, i.e., accused nos.2 and 3 were acquitted of all charges by the Trial Court.

2.2 The case involves the murder of one Kolandaippam, wherein the core motive was identified as a longstanding enmity over a land dispute between the deceased and the three accused. Prior to the incident, there were several confrontations and threats, notably 3½ years earlier on the disputed land, and a subsequent altercation involving the deceased’s wife and Pappa, the sister of the first accused. These events, including a police-compromised complaint by the deceased’s wife, intensified the hostility. 2.3 On 17th March 2009, around 6:00 p.m., at Koil Kaadu Chithanattu Salai in Neringipettai Village, the deceased, along with P.Ws.2, 3, and 5, was confronted by the accused. Heated arguments took place between the two parties. During the quarrel, accused nos.1 and 2 stabbed Kolandaippam multiple times with soori knives, while accused no.3, though armed with a spade handle, did not inflict injuries but facilitated in the attack. P.W.1, the daughter of the deceased, witnessed this event. Following the attack, the deceased was taken to the Government Hospital at Bhavani, where Dr. (Mrs.) Janatha pronounced him dead and a complaint was lodged at the Ammapettai Police Station, leading to the registration of a case under Sections 302 and 324 of IPC.

2.4 The investigation, led initially by Subbiah (P.W.13) and later by A. Rajendran (P.W.14), involved meticulous collection of evidence. This included bloodstained earth from the crime scene, preparation of an Observation Mahazar and a Rough Sketch, and the recovery of the murder weapons. The autopsy conducted by Dr. Poornachandrika (P.W.8) revealed multiple stab wounds as the cause of death, particularly noting a fatal injury to the heart.

2.5 Significant evidence contributing to the appellant’s guilt includes the recovery of the murder weapon (a soori-knife) and bloodstained clothes following his voluntary confession. Additionally, the testimonies of the eyewitnesses, especially P.W.1, and the forensic evidence linking the blood group from the material objects to the deceased, played a crucial role. Despite some inconsistencies in the eyewitness accounts, the overwhelming evidence pointed towards the accused no.1’s direct involvement in the assault.

2.6 Upon filing of charge sheet by the respondent police, a session case was registered before the Additional Sessions Judge, Bhavani in S.C.No.177 of 2010. The Trial Court taking cognizance of the offence, framed two charges. Charge against the accused Nos.1 to 3 was under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC. Charge was against the accused no.3 under Section 307 IPC.

2.7 The trial involved the examination of 14 witnesses, and the presentation of 18 documents and 9 material objects. While the accused nos.2 and 3 were acquitted due to lack of conclusive evidence against them, the accused no.1, i.e., the appellant herein was found guilty based on the weight of the testimonies and other documentary and material evidence. According to the Trial Court there was compelling evidence, particularly the recovery of the murder weapon and the consistency of the eyewitness testimonies, which duly proved the conviction of the appellant.”

Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 3 that, “As already narrated earlier, by judgment dated 05.10.2012, the Trial Court convicted the accused no.1, i.e., the appellant herein under Section 302 IPC and acquitted accused Nos.2 and 3 from all the charges levelled against them. The appellant was sentenced to undergo imprisonment for life and to pay a fine of Rs.5,000/-, in default to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one year for the said offence.”

To be sure, the Bench then observes in para 7 that, “Having heard the arguments of both the parties, we find that the evidence presented before the Trial Court and the facts and circumstances of the case clearly establish beyond reasonable doubt that the wound caused by the appellant was the reason for the death of the deceased. The High Court also reaffirmed this observation that the injuries with soori-knife caused by the appellant were the reason for the death of the deceased.”

Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 11 that, “In the present case, while looking at the facts and circumstances of the case, it can be seen that the appellant had suddenly stabbed the deceased during a heated verbal argument with him and not during a preplanned attack which was carried out with the sole intention of causing the death of the deceased. The previous enmity between the appellant and the deceased had been a contributory factor leading to the verbal altercation but it was not the reason for the accused to carry out a pre-planned fatal attack against the deceased. The appellant had acted “suddenly”, in the heat of passion and without a pre-planned approach to kill the deceased.”

It is also worth noting that the Bench then notes in para 12 that, “Right from the beginning i.e. the prosecution story as set up in the FIR was that initially there was a heated discussion between the parties and in a fit of anger the physical assault took place. Even the ocular testimony is also to the same effect. Although on the same evidence the Trial Court has acquitted two co-accused and convicted only the appellant. It has also come in evidence that the appellant had caused only one injury whereas other accused had caused multiple injuries. However, the Trial Court acquitted the other two accused.”

Most significantly and most forthrightly, the Bench then minces just no words to say in no uncertain terms in para 13 which constitutes the cornerstone of this notable judgment that, “Hence, it can be safely concluded from the evidence led in the present case that the appellant’s overt act of killing the deceased happened during a fit of anger in the heat of a passionate verbal quarrel and would fall under Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC. Moreover, the clear intent needed to prove culpable homicide amounting to murder has also not been established by the prosecution.”

What’s more, the Bench then states in para 14 that, “The appeal is partly allowed.”

Finally, the Bench concludes by holding in para 15 that, “The conviction under Section 302 IPC is Converted to Section 304 Part-I with sentence of 10 years Rigorous Imprisonment and fine of Rs. 50,000/-, to be paid to the victim’s family.”

All told, we thus see that the Apex Court has made it indubitably clear that the act of killing happened during a fit of anger in the heat of a passionate verbal quarrel is not murder. The top court cited the judgment of Rampal Singh vs State of UP in (2012) 8 SCC 289 in para 9 and in Surinder Kumar Vs. Union Territory, Chandigarh (1989) 2 SCC 217 in para 10. It thus goes without saying that all the Courts including the High Court must definitely pay heed to what the Apex Court has held so rationally here and should hold accordingly in similar such cases. No denying it!

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