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High Court quashes Mokokchung rape conviction; orders retrial

Nagaland News

DIMAPUR, MARCH 15: The Kohima Bench of Gauhati High Court on Tuesday quashed an order issued by the Sessions Judge of Mokokchung on June 12, 2014 sentencing a man accused of raping his stepdaughter to 10 years rigorous imprisonment and ordered a fresh trial to be completed within 6 months.
The Bench, comprising Justices Devashis Baruah and Arun Dev Choudhury, also directed the District Legal Services Authority, Mokokchung, to provide legal aid counsel to defend the accused person, Limatoshi.
The ruling was delivered after Limatoshi filed an appeal against the Sessions Judge’s order in 2019.
Case history
Court documents show that in the evening of November 30, 2013, residents of AR helipad area in Mokokchung Town had apprehended one person on charges of raping a minor girl.
In the course of enquiry, the Investigating Officer (IO) had also arrested the girl’s stepfather, Limatoshi.
Upon completion of investigation, the IO had submitted a charge-sheet against the two accused persons Yampangrepba and Limatoshi.
During the hearing, the Bench was informed that after the case was fixed to be heard on May 28, 2014, the defence Counsel of Limatoshi applied for withdrawal of vakalatnama on the ground that the Counsel was not authorised or engaged for trial.
On the same day, the accused person appealed to the Sessions Judge, Mokokchung, for free legal aid “as he did not have means to afford to engage a lawyer as he was daily wage earner”.
Again, on the same day, charges were framed against both the accused persons ~ record shows that Yampangrepba pleaded not guilty and the trial proceeded but Limatoshi pleaded guilty and was convicted under Section 376 (2) (f) (i) IPC and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for 10 years and penalised Rs 1,000.
According to the Bench, by now law is well-settled that when a conviction of an accused is based entirely on his plea of guilt, the Court must take care to ensure that the plea is voluntary, clear and unambiguous.
“The accused needs to be clarified and the accused must understand the nature of the allegation made against him and the accused must admit all such facts which are necessary and essential to constitute the offence. The law is also well settled that while convicting a person taking recourse to the provision of Section 229 of the CrPC, the Court must have before it all such facts which are essential to constitute the offence and such facts must be admitted by the accused before plea of guilty on the accused is acted upon. The law is also equally settled that Section 229 gives discretion to the Court to proceed with the trial even if the accused pleads guilty and such discretion need to be exercised judiciously with proper application of mind”, the order stated.
In the case in question, the Bench noted that on the day when the accused person had pleaded guilty, he was under judicial custody and without a defence Counsel to advise him “regarding the implication of pleading guilty inasmuch as the record itself reveals that the appellant is an illiterate daily wage earner and belongs to poor strata of the society”.
It also noted that at no point of time did the Sessions Judge inform/warn the accused regarding the implication of his pleading guilty of the offence charged.
“According to this Court, while exercising discretionary power under Section 229 of the CrPC, a duty is cast upon the Court to warn the accused person and to explain the implication of pleading guilty, more particularly in a case like the present one, who is illiterate, who is without any defence Counsel and in the judicial custody…As the said course of action has not been taken by the learned Sessions Judge while passing the impugned order in exercise of his discretionary power under Section 229 CrPC, in the considered opinion of this Court, the same is liable to be interfered”, it stated.
Further, the Bench observed that the Sessions Judge had come to the conclusion that commission of rape was made beyond reasonable doubt as the charge was framed on the basis of the accused person voluntarily pleading of before the Police.
“It is worth mentioning herein that the record reveals that the present appellant (Limatoshi) was neither named in the FIR nor implicated by the victim or by the mother of the victim when their statements were recorded. The present appellant was implicated in the charge-sheet by virtue of his confessional statement before the Police.
“However, record reveals that no endeavour was made by the investigating authority to record such statement under Section 164 of the CrPC. The learned Sessions Judge, while exercising his discretionary power, relied on the alleged confession of the accused appellant made before the Police but ignored the statement of the victim and her mother recorded under Section 161 CrPC. The learned Trial Court, while coming to the aforesaid conclusion, ought not to have relied upon the statement of guilt made under Section 161 CrPC while coming to the conclusion that the case is made out beyond reasonable doubt”, it stated.
Also, while holding the accused guilty, the Sessions Judge had remarked that the demeanour of the accused shows no sign of regret.
Against this, the Bench ruled: “Exercise of discretion on the basis of such facts cannot be said to be sound exercise of power under Section 229 of the CrPC. Therefore, the same cannot be accepted and accordingly same needs to be interfered on this count also”.
(Page News Service)