Intoxication Not A Mitigating Factor

It has been most rightly remarked by the Supreme Court most recently on December 13, 2019 in a latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment titled Suraj Jagannath Jadhav vs State of Maharashtra in Criminal Appeal No. 1885 of 2019 that, “Mere intoxication is not a mitigating factor factor when accused was not in a highly inebriated condition”. This was held so while clearly rejecting the contention of the accused that he was under the influence of liquor and threw matchstick on his deceased wife and set her ablaze  and therefore his condition was such that he could not understand what he was doing! There can be no reason to justify an unlawful act and that too of such a horrifying nature as burning one’s own wife!

Apex Court Bench

Apex Court Bench

To start with, this noteworthy judgment authored by Justice MR Shah for himself and Justice Ashok Bhushan set the ball rolling in para 1 wherein it was observed that, “Feeling aggrieved and dissatisfied with the impugned judgment and order dated 09.10.2018 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Bombay in Criminal Appeal No. 723 of 2013, by which the High Court has dismissed the said appeal preferred by the appellant herein-original accused and has confirmed the judgment and order of conviction passed by the learned Trial Court convicting the accused for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the IPC, the original accused has preferred the present appeal.

As it turned out, para 2 then states that, “At the outset, it is required to be noted that the only submission made by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant-original accused is that the death of the deceased can be said to be a culpable homicide not amounting to murder and the case would fall under Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC and therefore the case would be under Section 304 Part II IPC. Even this Court has issued the notice in the present appeal limited to the nature of offence.”

While elaborating further on this pale defence, para 3 then states that, “Shri Sushil Karanjkar, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant-original accused has vehemently submitted that, as such, there was no intention on the part of the accused to kill his wife. It is submitted that at the time when the unfortunate incident had taken place, the accused was under the influence of liquor and therefore his condition was such that he could not understand what he was doing. It is further submitted by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant-original accused that even thereafter the appellant tried to save the deceased and poured water to save her and, while doing so, even the appellant-original accused also sustained the injuries. Therefore, relying upon the decision of this Court in the case of Kalu Ram v. State of Rajasthan (2000) 10 SCC 324, it is prayed to alter the conviction from Section 302 IPC to Section 304 Part II IPC.”

For the sake of brevity, let us now have a glimpse of the key findings of the Apex Court Bench. To start with, it is observed in para 5 that, “Heard the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respective parties at length. As observed hereinabove, in the present appeal, the sole question which is posed for consideration of this Court is, whether, in the facts and circumstances of the case, the case would fall under Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC or Section 300 fourthly and, therefore, whether Section 302 IPC shall be attracted or the case may fall under Section 304 Part II IPC?”

More significantly, it is then disclosed in para 5.1 that, “It is the case on behalf of the appellant-original accused that as at the time when the incident took place, the accused was drunk and under the influence of liquor and he had no intention to cause death of the deceased-wife and that even subsequently the accused tried to save the deceased and poured the water on her and therefore the case would fall under Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC and, therefore the conviction is to be altered from Section 302 of the IPC to Section 304 Part II IPC, having relied upon the decision of this Court in the case of Kalu Ram (supra). However, it is required to be noted that, in the present case, the appellant-accused poured the kerosene on the deceased when she was trying to run out of the house to save herself and was trying to open the latch of the door of the house, the accused threw the match stick on her person and set her ablaze. Nothing is on record that the accused was in a highly inebriated stage. Even looking to the conversation which took place between the deceased and the accused, so stated in the dying declaration given by the deceased, it can safely be said that the accused was in very much conscious condition when the incident took place. He was very much in the senses and was conscious about what he was doing. Therefore, the accused was fully conscious of the fact that if kerosene is poured and matchstick is lit and put on the body, a person might die due to burns. Therefore, the case would fall under Section 300 fourthly and Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC shall not be applicable.”

Finally and most importantly, it is then held in para 7 that, “Applying the law laid down by this Court in the cases of Bhagwan (supra) and Santosh (supra) to the facts of the case on hand and the manner in which the accused poured the kerosene on the deceased and thereafter when she was trying to run away from the room to save her, the accused came from behind and threw a match-stick and set her ablaze, we are of the opinion that the death of the deceased was a culpable homicide amounting to murder and Section 300 fourthly shall be applicable and not Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC as submitted on behalf of the accused. We are in complete agreement with the view taken by the learned Trial Court as well as the High Court convicting the accused for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the IPC.” Lastly, it is then held in the last para 8 that, “In view of the above and for the reasons stated above, the present appeal fails and the same deserves to be dismissed and is accordingly dismissed.” Very rightly so!

In conclusion, the Apex Court Bench has very rightly convicted the accused as he was fully conscious of what he was doing while he threw a  match-stick and set her wife ablaze. The intoxication was not so much that he could not understand what he was doing. So he was not given the benefit of doubt. Very rightly so!

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,

s/o Col BPS Sirohi,

A 82, Defence Enclave,

Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera, UP

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