Criminal Defenses & Forensic Evidences in a Murder Trial
The Court Proceedings in India have time and again reiterated the authenticity and admissibility of forensic evidence in criminal cases. Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides discretion upon the Court to count upon the opinions of the Court. The Court can form opinions upon any art, foreign law, fingerprint impressions, handwriting, identification of an individual, science, etc., by any person who is especially skilled in that field, called an expert. Any sort of evidence that permits the investigators to link a series of crimes and identify the relatedness in them by knowing the patterns of the crime scene, facilitating the identification of the suspect, amounts to forensic evidence. The prosecution relies upon the statements made by witnesses and sufficient corroborative forensic evidence to assert their arguments and prove the commission of the criminal offense such as murder. The forensic evidence may include fingerprints of any person, Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA), strands of hair, saliva, weapons used, semen, sputum, skin, a specific bodily mark, etc. The criminal defense in a criminal case depends upon lot of primary and secondary evidences and forensic evidence is considered as a direct evidence and/or a primary evidence in a given criminal trial.
A DNA is present in all living cells and can be extracted by Forensic Experts from hair, urine, blood, sweat, bone, hair, teeth, cell, tissue, or any other bodily fluid. The Courts often rely on a DNA test in criminal cases, such as murder due to its unique feature and its significant variation in different individuals. The investigating team can collect DNA samples from items that were worn or touched by persons involved in a crime. These may include clothes, underclothes, fingernail scraping, gloves, bedding, eyeglasses, weapons, tools, watch, etc The prosecution in Jayanta Mitra Vs. The State of Jharkhand conducted DNA testing through forensic experts to prove the guilt of the accused charged for murder. The DNA of the bloodstains retrieved from the clothes of the victim and the weapon used for the murder meticulously matched with the DNA of the accused, hence proving the accused guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, relying upon which the Court sentenced life imprisonment for the accused. (Jayanta Mitra Vs. The State Of Jharkhand, Criminal Appeal (DB) NO. 576 OF 2012). The Supreme Court in Sandeep Vs. State of UP relied upon DNA Test Report along with other evidence to establish the motive of an accused in a murder case. In this case, the accused contrived the woman to undergo abortion, however, she disagreed, thus murdered. The investigation officers conducted a DNA analysis of the fetus recovered from the deceased womb and it was confirmed that the accused was the fetus’s biological father (Sandeep Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, Criminal Appeal No. 1651 of 2009) .
However, misconduct in following the procedures while collecting DNA samples or improper handling of DNA can sabotage the entire case. This is called DNA tampering. In Dr. Mrs. Nupur Talwar Vs. The State of UP, the accused, who is the mother of the victim along with her husband, was alleged for murdering her daughter and domestic help and tampering with forensic evidence. According to the documents of the case diary as maintained by the Investigating officer, stains of blood were retrieved from the wooden portion of a wall between the rooms of the victim and appellate. However, the Court produced a witness in the court to testify that the appellant’s husband tried to paint that portion of the wall with a malafide intention to destroy the DNA and tamper with proofs. The Court held Appellate, along with her husband to be guilty under Section 201/34 of IPC for committing murders and for tampering with the evidence. (Dr. Mrs. Nupur Talwar Vs. Criminal Bureau Of Investigation Delhi, Criminal Appeal No. 68 of 2012).
Forensic Ballistics is a focused branch of Forensic Science that essentially deals with angular movement and effects of projectiles, like bullets, missiles, bombs. The Courts have often relied upon the opinions of the Expert that are duly established on the basis of findings recorded in Ballistic Reports. These reports scrutinizes the dynamics and internal action of firearm and suggests the firearm that was used in a crime scene, from which position and location it was fired, how many shots were being fired, etc (Joginder Singh Vs. State Of Haryana, Criminal Appeal No. 1148 of 2007). The Supreme Court in the Gheru Lal case (Gheru lal Vs. State of U.P Criminal Appeal No.155 of 2006 ) discussed the vitalities of Ballistic Reports in detail. The alleged accuse, in this case, had murdered a person and had caused physical injury to the other person with the help of a firearm and the issue here was whether both the shots fired from the accused’s firearm hit both the persons in a single fire shot or if there were different guns involved in the crime scene. The Ballistic report opined that a single shot from the fire gun cannot cause vertical injury to one person and horizontal injury to the other. Additionally, the report stated that in cartridges of standard 12 bore shotguns, it is improbable to use bullets of any other rifle with one big and another small palette. Thus such discrepancies in the prosecution version of the case led to the acquittal of the accused.
However, it is important to note that it will be insufficient to convict a person accused of a criminal offence such as murder in the absence of any circumstantial evidence based on the testimony of any eyewitness. The Supreme Court in the case Kalua v. State of UP (Kalua Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh 1958 AIR 180) scrutinized the extent to which the opinion of a ballistic expert can be applied to a case. In the given case in hand, the victim was murdered by rounds fired from a country-made pistol. After the event, the investigating officers retrieved a cartridge from the cot of the deceased and a country-made pistol from the accused. The ballistic reports found that the cartridge which was recovered from the crime scene was fired from the country-made pistol leading to the victim’s murder. However, the apex court bearing in mind the importance of expert opinion held that the appellant, in this case, cannot be convicted since the factual matrix of the case lacked circumstantial evidence such as a testimony to the eye witness to the crime scene. However, since the opinion of the expert had not been further challenged in the cross-examination before the High Court, there is no margin for error and it is safe to accept the opinion of the Expert. Hence the appellant was convicted under the relevant provisions of the IPC and the Arms Act.
The remarkable contribution of forensic science to the criminal justice system is commendable. The justice system operating in our country has immense faith in the field of forensic since the times of the British. The Courts have always relied upon them bearing in mind the legal standards of admissible evidence and criminal procedure. However, it is crucial to note that the Court is not bound to solely believe on this evidence only and can have a discrete opinion or decision by the virtue of any other evidence.
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Lopamudra Mahapatra