Supreme Court held that the burden of proof even in a 304B Dowry death case initially lies on prosecution only and shifts to accused, only after prosecution establishes their case.
Under Section 4 of the Evidence Act whenever it is directed by this Act that the Court shall presume the fact it shall regard such fact as proved unless and until it is disproved. So the court has no option but to presume that the accused had caused dowry death unless the accused disproves it. It is a statutory compulsion on the court. However it is open to the accused to adduce such evidence for disproving the said compulsory presumption, as the
burden is unmistakably on him to do so. He can discharge such burden either by eliciting answers through cross-examination of the witnesses of the prosecution or by adducing evidence on the defence side or by both.
But the peculiar situation in respect of an offence under Section 304B 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.
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 on to 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 304B 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 304B IPC and sentenced to the serious punishment prescribed thereunder, which mandates a minimum sentence of imprisonment for seven years.
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 decoit 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 304B, 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. The above illustration would amplify the gravity of the consequence befalling an accused if he was only asked to defend a charge under Section 302 IPC and was alternatively convicted under Section 304B IPC without any notice to him, because he is deprived of the opportunity to disprove the burden cast on him by law.
In such a situation, if the trial court finds that the prosecution has failed to make out the case under Section 302 IPC, but the offence under Section 304-B IPC has been made out, the court has to call upon the accused to enter on his defence in respect of the said offence. Without affording such an opportunity to the accused, a conviction under Section 304-B IPC would lead to real and serious miscarriage of justice. Even if no such count was included in the charge, when the court affords him an opportunity to discharge his burden by putting him to notice regarding the prima facie view of the court that he is liable to be convicted under Section 304B IPC, unless he succeeds in disproving the presumption, it is possible for the court to enter upon a conviction of the said offence in the event of his failure to disprove the presumption.
Shamnsaheb M. Multtani Vs State of Karnataka on 24 January 2001
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