INDIA: Court orders damages from and inquiry against officers who framed defendant

In a landmark criminal judgment involving abuse of power by the police, a Special Additional Sessions Court in Calicut not only acquitted the accused framed by the errant cops in Sundari Amma murder case, but also ordered a department inquiry as well as compensation. The court found that there was significant reason to suspect that the investigating officers in the case had committed perjury and fabricated evidence.

Neither the practice of framing innocent people in order to solve cases nor the acquittal of such framed people are new in India. The police forces across Indian states are notorious for this type of conduct. What makes this case stand out is that the court is holding uniformed police officers responsible for their actions in pursuing cases, fixes command responsibility, and orders punitive measures. In doing so, the judgment is bound to act as a deterrent against errant cops.

The case itself began when 66-year-old Sundari Amma, who used to sell idlis (local snack)to hotels, was found murdered at her residence with 26 stab wounds in July 2012. After being first investigated by the local police, the case was handed over to the Crime Branch on The Crime Branch arrested an employee of one of the hotels refered to as “Jayesh” (also known as Jabbar, or Babu), on September 11, 2013. The police accused Jayesh of killing the woman with intent of stealing money for a pleasure trip with friends.

The court, however, found that the evidences produced by the prosecution did not establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Perhaps most importantly, the knife alleged to have been used was examined by the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) which established that the weapon was not the one used in the crime as blood stains will remain on a knife even after one year and no such stains existed.

The court directed the state government to reinvestigate to apprehend the actual murderer. It also found evidence that E. P. Pruthviraj, the then deputy Superintendent of Police and investigating officer of the case, appeared to have committed perjury and fabricated evidence, serious crimes under Indian Penal Code, and consequently ordered an investigation based on those charges. The court also ordered compensation of 1 Lakh Rs. to be recovered from Mr. Pruthviraj now promoted as assistant commissioner and given to the acquitted.

The court also took notice of the fact that the former Kasaba circle inspector P. Pramod did not initiate action under Section 340 of the CrPC (perjury) as mandated by the law. Taking this as evidence of dereliction of duty, the court issued a show cause notice to him.

Further, the judgment is also welcome because of role of Mr. Anil Kumar, state brief counsel who represented Jayesh (he was too poor to get legal support). In a country where state brief counsels tend to help prosecution much more than the poor and vulnerable defendants they represent, such honest professionals certainly strengthen the public justice system.

The AHRC welcomes the judgment and order for investigation, it hopes courts of law across India follow suit and take action against dishonest officers while freeing those framed by them.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-183-2014
Countries : India,
Issues : Extrajudicial killings, Impunity,