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Finger Print Evidence of Accused Not Illegal if Taken Without Magistrate’s Order: SC

Author-Shreya Kalyani, [Chanakya National Law University, Patna]

The Supreme Court has observed that merely due to the absence of a magisterial order authorizing the police to obtain fingerprints of the accused; it cannot be held that the fingerprints evidence was illegally obtained.

The Apex Court in the case of Ashish Jain V. Makrand Singh has observed that the fingerprint evidence of the accused cannot be said to be illegally obtained merely on the ground that no magisterial order authorizing the police to obtain fingerprints of the accused was issued. The instant appeals arise from the judgments of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh of 2004. The bench was comprising Justice NV Ramana and Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudarwas considering the issue. In this case, the Trial Court had convicted and sentenced the murder accused to death. The High Court, allowing their appeal, had acquitted the accused. The High Court had found that the fingerprint evidence was illegally obtained by the police as there was no authorization of the same by the Magistrate. Referring to the provisions of Identification of Prisoners Act,1920, and the State rules made thereunder, the bench said: “As held by this Court, although section 4 mentions that the police officer is competent to take measurements of the accused, but to dispel doubts as to its bona fides and to rule out the fabrication of evidence, it is eminently desirable that they were taken before or under the order of a Magistrate.”

However, the aforesaid observations cannot be held to mean that this Court observed that under section 4, police officers are not entitled to take fingerprints until the order is taken from a Magistrate. If certain suspicious circumstances do arise from a particular case relating to lifting fingerprints, in order to dispel or ward off such suspicious circumstances, it would be in the interest of justice to get orders from the Magistrate. Thus there cannot be any hard and fast rule that in every case, there should be a magisterial order for lifting the fingerprints of the accused. Thus, it cannot be held that the fingerprint evidence was illegally obtained merely due to the absence of a magisterial order authorizing the same.” However, in the present case, the bench said that the absence of a magisterial order casts doubts on the credibility of the fingerprint evidence, especially with respect to the packing and sealing of the tumblers on which the fingerprints were allegedly found. The court also noted that, the attesting witnesses, in this case, were not independent witnesses, but the family members of the deceased. The bench then upheld the High Court judgment discarding fingerprint evidence in this case.

The Trial Court, upon framing charges and appreciating evidence, found the accused persons guilty of the said offences, and sentenced them to capital punishment.The reference for the death sentence and an appeal by the accused persons were filed before the High Court. Both were heard by a Division Bench; however, the learned judges could not reach a consensus and had difference of opinion. One learned Judge was in favour of acquittal of the accused persons and another learned Judge concurred with the judgment of the Trial Court. Hence, the matter was heard by the learned Third Judge, and as his findings were in consonance with acquittal, upon a majority of 2:1, the High Court acquitted the accused persons from all charges leveled against them.

In the light of the discussion and reappraisal of evidence by the Court, it was held that there was no glaring infirmity in the acquittal granted by the High Court. On the other hand, it is well-reasoned and therefore accept the view of the High Court. The appellants have failed to establish that the High Court has erred in its conclusion. Unless any blatant illegality or substantial error in the order of acquittal is proved by the appellants, and as long as the conclusion of acquittal is a possible view based on the circumstances and material on record, this Court is not bound to interfere with the same. As a reasonable suspicion or doubt persists in our minds regarding the guilt of the accused based on the case of the prosecution, the scales of criminal justice tilt in favour of acquittal of the accused. In such a scenario, the acquittal of the accused persons is confirmed. While dismissing the appeal filed against a High Court acquittal in a murder case, the Bench of Justices NV Ramana and MM Shatanagoudar noted;

It cannot be held that fingerprint evidence was illegally obtained merely due to the absence of a magisterial order authorizing the same. If certain suspicious circumstances do arise from a particular case relating to lifting of fingerprints, in order to dispel or ward off such suspicious circumstances, it would be in the interest of justice to get orders from the Magistrate. However, there cannot be any hard and fast rule that in every case, there should be a magisterial order for lifting the fingerprints of the accused.

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