Role of Medical Evidence in a Criminal Trial: Lawyers Advice
The interaction between medicine and law has been increasing over the past few years. The use of medical and scientific evidence plays a major role, especially during criminal trials to identify the accused and prove his/her guilt. This article discusses the importance of medical evidence and its admissibility in criminal cases in India today.
Medical evidence is the proof given by medical experts, based on their scientific knowledge, skill and personal experience. In any criminal trial involving offences against the human body, the opinions of these experts play a huge role. Examples of types of Medical Evidences are –
• Post-Mortem Report – Indicates the cause, nature and approximate time of death,
• DNA Test – Used to identify an individual and his lineage,
• Blood Tests – Used to find out the blood relations or connection between persons,
• In Rape cases medical evidence is commonly required to support a charge of rape. Medical experts examine various aspects such as marks of violence on the body of the victim, signs of loss of virginity, signs of venereal infections, signs of violence on and around the genitals etc.
• Medical experts are also called to establish pleas of insanity or minority as used by the defence. Through their examinations, they can also ascertain the weapons used, medicines given, poisons used etc.
Medical evidence is governed under various statues in India –
• The Indian Evidence Act, 1872– Section 45 of the Act deals with opinion of experts, and provides a general exception to the rule that evidence of a third person is not admissible in court.
• The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973– Section 53 deals with examination of the accused by a medical practitioner, while Section 53A of the Code deals specially with examination of the accused in rape cases. The Code provides proper guidelines and the procedure to be followed by the police and medical practitioners during the medical examination as well.
• The Constitution of India– Article 20(3) talks about the right against self-incrimination, and Article 21 talks about the right to life. Both these Articles are relevant in this case as well. If any evidence is derived from the accused through compulsion, it cannot be used in Court, as stated by the Court in the case of State of Bombay v. Kathi Kalu Oghad and Ors (AIR 1961 SC 1808).
Both the prosecution and defence can make use of medical evidence during criminal trials. During the case of Vineet Kumar Chauhan v. State of U.P. (AIR 2008 SC 780), the Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that “It cannot be laid down as a general rule, that an expert opinion is required for a prosecution’s case, irrespective of the quality of direct evidence present in that case.”
Pertaining to the same matter, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in the case of Solanki Chimanbhai Ukabhai v. State of Gujarat, (AIR 1983 SC 484: 1983 Cr. L. 822), stated that the significance of medical evidence is merely corroborative, and only establishes that the injuries could have been caused as per the manner alleged. The court also stated that the defence could use this evidence in order to discredit the eyewitness by proving the injuries made could not have been possibly been caused as per the manner alleged. The Court, during this case also held that when the evidence of any direct eye-witness is reliable and satisfactory, it cannot be rejected based on hypothetical medical evidence.
The evidentiary value of medical evidence has been discussed extensively over the years. Since this type of evidence is merely opinion based, it cannot outweigh the testimony of an independent eye-witness. The courts in India have looked into this matter and provided their opinion on the same in various cases –
• During the case of Mayur v. State of Gujarat (AIR 1983 SC 5: 1982 Cr.L.J. 1972), it was held that there is no irrebuttable presumption that a doctor is a witness of truth. Even after being deposed in Court, the doctors evidence has to be valued like that of any other witness in the case.
• Similarly, in the case of Awadhesh v. State of M.P. (AIR 1988 SC 1158: 1988 Cr.LJ. 1154), the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that “Medical expert’s opinion is not always final and binding.”
• In Ram Narain v. State of Punjab (AIR 1975 SC 1727: 1975 Cr.L.J. 1500: 1975 SCC (Cri) 571), the Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that without reasonable explanation, the prosecutions entire case could be discredited when the evidence of the witness of the prosecution and the medical evidence are totally inconsistent with one another.
Hence, while looking at the role of medical evidence during trials, acquittals or convictions, it is clear that –
- The value of this evidence lies only to the extent it supports and lends weight to direct evidence of eye-witnesses and vice-versa.
- In order for medical evidence to completely discard ocular evidence, there must be a direct conflict between the two, i.e., the medical evidence should rule out the story of the prosecution.
- Medical evidence is merely of an advisory nature, and the opinion of experts is not regarded as finally and binding by the Courts in India.
To conclude, medical evidence has a pivotal role in criminal jurisdiction, as conferred from the Indian Evidence Act of 1872. This evidence plays a vital role especially in cases of death and rape, and provides the Courts with assistance in order to establish the integrity, admissibility and relevancy of ocular evidence as well. The Courts in India, have efficiently cleared out any ambiguities present with this type of evidence, and rely on it till today for effective administration of justice.
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Madhulika Iyer