Lawwatch

Acquittal of the Accused before Defence Evidence

Introduction
Acquittal before defence evidence in sessions trial is something very
rarely happens in Indian courts but there is a legal provision in the
Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC), for the purpose. It is a mechanism
incorporated in the law to end the criminal proceedings against the
person accused of criminal offence unnecessarily, at an early
opportunity in the trial process.

Prosecution starts the sessions trial

In Sessions trial, after opening of the prosecution case under Section
226 of the CrPC and the production of both oral and documentary evidence
for prosecution under Section 231 of the CrPC, the prosecution concludes
its evidence.

After it closes its evidence, the prosecution has normally no right to
call further evidence. But if the court comes to the conclusion that it
is absolutely necessary to call the witness to arrive at a just decision
in the case, the court can allow further evidence under Section 311 of
the CrPC.

Examination of the accused

After conclusion of the prosecution evidence and before proceeding to
the defence evidence, the accused would be examined with questions
generally on the case, under Section 313 CrPC.

The purpose of this examination is to enable him to explain any
circumstances appearing in the evidence against him. This examination is
done not on oath and the answers he gives would not be used to convict
him.

The judge has unfettered power to put any question to the accused as he
considers necessary without any previous warning.

Acquittal under 232 when no evidence

The prosecution and defence can, under Section 232 CrPC, argue for and
against the charge proposed in the case.

On hearing the prosecution and the defence, if the judge considers that
there is no evidence that the accused committed the offence, then the
judge is bound to issue an order of acquittal rather than framing the
charge.

The purpose of the argument under this section is to expedite conclusion
of the trial, avoid unnecessary harassment of the accused and waste of
public time when there is “no evidence” at all on the prosecution side.
The Section 232 CrPC confers a very important statutory right upon the
accused enabling him to take his chance of acquittal.

The defendant is under no duty to disclose the names of his defence
witnesses till the court considers the acquittal (or non-acquittal)
under Section 232 CrPC. If the accused is not acquitted under Section
232 CrPC, then the accused will be called onto enter into his defence
under Section 233 CrPC.

When the judge comes to the conclusion that there is “no evidence” and
acquits the accused, he has to apply his mind and give reasons of
acquittal in the order. The order of acquittal is appealable. In case of
non-acquittal of the accused, the judge should issue an order indicating
that it was not a case of “no evidence” but a case fit for the accused
to enter on his defense.

Written statement can be filed during defence

After giving statements under Section 313 CrPC by the accused no written
statement concerning it can be filed.

But it is possible for an accused to file a written statement under
Section 233(2) once he enters upon his defence with supporting evidence
thereof.

Judge plays a crucial role in acquittal

The acquittal under Section 232 CrPC is there only in Sessions Trial,
but not in Warrant Case. The judge plays a crucial role in the acquittal
of the accused at this stage. Only a learned and competent judge can
take such a bold decision as he is bound to justify the decision with
sufficient reasoning. Allowing the accused to proceed to further phase
of trial process is an easier and less strenuous option for a judge.

The term “no evidence” used in the section refers to “no legal evidence
of proof” but not of “no evidence” or “not satisfactory” evidence. It
means the evidence available would not constitute the offence charged or
the essential elements of the offence are absent, even if the evidence
is factual.

The acquittal of the accused under Section 232 CrPC is not possible when
the prosecution adduces no evidence at all and the statement of accused
under Section 313 CrPC is not recorded. In such a situation, discharge
(rather than acquittal) of the accused alone is possible.

What the court must ensure

In acquittal under Section 232 CrPC, the Sessions Court must ensure that
the prosecution evidence was closed under Section 231 CrPC, the hearing
was held under section 232 CrPC and the mind of the court was applied
under Section 232 CrPC. After that a decision on “no evidence” was taken
and then a detailed order of acquittal with reasons for arriving at the
decision must be passed.

If there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the trial, then the
court will issue a brief order and ask the accused to enter on defence
evidence. If the accused produces no evidence at all in the defence
evidence, it is safer to record his statement and obtain his signature
so as to avoid any denial on his part later.

Non-compliance not to vitiate proceedings

Non compliance of the procedures under Section 232 CrPC will not vitiate
proceedings or invalidate it when no substantial prejudice occurs
against the accused.

But when a failure of justice has in fact been occasioned by that
non-compliance, it is curable under Section 465 CrPC in the appeal
stage.

Conclusion

Acquittal under Section 232 CrPC is a safety valve to the innocent
person unduly accused with criminal offences.

If the judge properly applies his discretion in acquitting such people
at an early stage of criminal trial, it will be beneficial to the
accused persons unnecessarily charged with fabricated offences and to
the criminal justice system as a whole in myriad ways.