While hearing an appeal, a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court set aside the accused's conviction and sentence in a case of matricide and double filicide on the grounds that the Investigation Officer did not immediately subject her to medical examination to determine the accused's mental soundness.
Dispute the fact that no medical examination was conducted, this comes after a slew of evidence and overwhelming factors in the investigation raised reasonable doubts about the accused's mental state.
Accused Lalitha filed an appeal, challenging the conviction and sentence imposed by the Sessions Judge under Sections 302 and 309 of the Indian Penal Code for the alleged murder of her mother and two minor daughters.
Adv P.K. Varghese, who represented the appellant, claimed that the investigation was flawed because no inquiry into her mental state was conducted despite evidence that she had received treatment for mental problems. He argued that this qualified her for the exception and, as a result, acquittal.
Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice M. R. Anitha observed that, although the burden of proving that the accused was legally insane at the time of commission of the offence was vested on the accused u/s.105 of the Evidence Act, the accused failed to discharge the onus of proving her unsoundness of mind at the time of commission of the offence.
The evidence presented at trial only established that the accused had received treatment for delusional disorder four years prior to the incident and schizophrenia one year later. There was no evidence presented regarding her mental state at the time of the incident. Dissatisfied, the court stated that "everyone suffering from mental illness ipso facto is not exempt from criminal liability."
"There is distinction between legal insanity and medical insanity and courts are concerned with legal insanity and not medical insanity. The burden of proof is upon the accused to prove that legal insanity under section 105 of Evidence Act, which the accused failed to discharge either by bringing case or from the evidence adducted from the defense side", the court stated.
The defense's argument is limited to the accused being entitled to the benefit of the doubt due to the total absence of inquiry into the accused's mental condition, despite the fact that investigation revealed that the accused had undergone treatment for mental illness.
The Court, on the other hand, found merit in the argument of infirmity in the investigation. The nature of her mindless murder of her own mother and children should have alerted the investigating officer. Such an act demanded an immediate investigation, and the accused should have undergone a psychiatric evaluation.Failure to do so creates a serious flaw in the prosecution case, entitling the accused to the benefit of the doubt and, as a result, acquittal.
The Court cited Joseph Mathai @ Jose v. State of Kerala (2019 KHC 934 ), which held that if a previous history of insanity is revealed during an investigation, the Investigating Officer has a duty to subject the accused to a medical examination and present that evidence in Court. Failure to do so creates a serious flaw in the prosecution case, and the benefit of the doubt must be granted to the accused.
"Matricide and maternal filicide followed by an attempt to commit suicide are the offences proved to have been committed by the accused. Normally a lady will not be able to do such gruesome act solitary ap at a stretch. During her examination she specifically stated that knowingly she can not harm even a fly", Court observed.
The Bench observed that if the Investigating Officer had been fair and wanted to present the true facts to the Court, he would have inquired into the accused's mental soundness.
"The Investigating Officer should have taken into account the peculiar nature of the offence of matricide and Filicide of two small daughters, as well as the factors brought out during investigation, to subject the accused to medical examination immediately after the incident to ascertain the accused's soundness of mind at the critical time of the incident.Failure to do so creates a serious flaw in the prosecution case, entitling the accused to the benefit of the doubt and, as a result, acquittal."
As a result, the Bench allowed the appeal while holding that the evidence presented by the prosecution and defence raises a reasonable doubt in the Court's mind about the accused's mens rea and that the general burden of proof on that aspect was not discharged, allowing the accused to benefit from the benefit of doubt.
Title : Lalitha@ Latha v. State of Kerala.