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Case Brief |Nandini Sathpathy v. P.L. Dani

case brief, case summary

PARTIES : 

Petitioner – Nandini Sathpathy

Respondent – P.L. Dani

FACTS : 

Nandini Satpathy is a former Chief Minister of Orissa and one-time minister at the national level. A complaint was filed against her by the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Vigilance, under section 179 IPC before the Sub-divisional Judicial Magistrate Sadar, Cuttack.

She was asked to come before the Vigilance Police Station, Cuttack, in September 1977 for examination. On the strength of the first information report, in which the petitioner, her sons and others were shown as accused, the investigation was commenced.

She was being examined in connection with a case registered against her under the Prevention of Corruption Act. 

During the investigation, she was interrogated concerning a long string of questions, given to her in writing. The appellant refused to answer questions and claimed the protection of article 20(3).

She was prosecuted under section 179 of IPC, for refusing to answer questions put by the lawful authority, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Vigilance Cuttack. The charges are that she during her tenure as the Chief Minister has misused her political power and has gained illegal gratification which has increased her wealth.

The major accusation against her was the acquisition of assets disproportionate to the known sources of income.

 Aggrieved by this the appellant moved to the High Court under Art. 226 of the Constitution as well as under section 401 of the Cr. P.C, challenging the validity of the proceeding because the charges against her were because the appellant failed police interrogation and that the appellant’s refusal to do so was covered under Article 20(3) of the Constitution and section 161(2) of Cr.P.C.

But the High Court failed to answer the limit of section 161(2) of the criminal procedure code and dismissed the petition. The appellant preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court. 

ISSUES : 

  • Does the constitutional shield of silence swing into action only in Court or can it barricade the ‘accused’ against incriminating interrogation at the stages of police investigation?
  • Does being ‘a witness against oneself’ include testimonial tendency to incriminate or probative probability of guilt flowing from the answer?
  • Does mens rea form a necessary component of Section 179 I.P.C., and, if so, what is its precise nature? Can a mere apprehension that any answer has a guilty potential salvage the accused or bring into play the exclusionary rule?
  • Does the bar against self-incrimination operate not merely with reference to a particular accusation in regard to which the police investigator interrogates, or does it extend also to other pending or potential accusations outside the specific investigation which has led to the questioning?
  • Does the right to remain silent extend to a person likely to be accused of an offence?
  • What is the ambit of the cryptic expression ‘compelled to be a witness against himself occurring in Article 20(3) of the Constitution?
  • What are the parameters of Section 161(2) of the Cr. Procedure Code?
  • Where do we demarcate the boundaries of benefit of doubt in the setting of Section 161(2) Cr. P. Code and Section 179 I.P.C.?
  • Does ‘any person’ in Section 161 Cr. Procedure Code include an accused person or only a witness?
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RULES :

Section 161 (1) of Criminal Procedure Code which deals with ‘examination of witnesses by police and says that “Any police officer making an investigation under this chapter, or any police officer not below such rank as the state government may, by general or special order, prescribe in this behalf, acting on the requisition of such officer, may examine orally any person supposed to be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case”.

The phrase ‘any person in section 161(1) of Cr. P.C does not include an accused person. Questions which join in the process of the prosecution case are more likely to expose the accused to a criminal charge or charges as several other cases have been charge-sheeted against them.

The right against self-incrimination protects the accused from saying any information that he/she may apprehend to be incriminating. The term “compelled testimony” has to be read as proof acquired not just by physical violence and threats but by psychic torture, environmental coercion, overbearing, tiring interrogative prolixity,  atmospheric pressure, intimidatory methods and the like. 

Section 161(2) of criminal procedure says that “Such person shall be bound to answer truly all questions relating to such case put to him by such officer, other than questions the answers to which would tend to expose him to a criminal charge or a penalty or forfeiture”.

The legal penalties that follow for refusal to answer or answer truthfully can not be “compulsion” under Art 20(3). Calling a woman as a witness in the police station violates Section 160 (1) and influences her testimony, and that Section 161 (2) and Art. 20 (3) immune the witness from being forced to answer incriminatory questions at the investigation stage.

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Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution deals with ‘prohibition against self-incrimination’ and states that “No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself”. 

Section 179 of Indian Penal Code which deals with ‘refusing to answer public servant authorized to question’ and says that “Whoever, being legally bound to state the truth on any subject to any public servant, refuses to answer any question demanded of him touching that subject by such public servant in the exercise of the legal powers of such public servant, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both”. 

ANALYSIS :

The Court concurred with the decisions of the Privy Council and itself to hold that the scope of Section 161 involves actual accused and suspects.

The Hon’ble Court held that the appellant shall be asked to answer all questions put to her which do not materially incriminate her in the pending or imminent investigations or prosecutions.

The Court held that ‘To be a witness against oneself is not confined to a particular offence regarding which the questioning is made but extends to other offences about which the accused has a reasonable apprehension of implication from his answer’.

 The court found that Section 161 of the criminal procedure code enables the police to examine the accused during an investigation. This conclusion also flows from ‘tendency to be exposed to a criminal charge’. ‘A criminal charge’ covers any criminal charge than under investigation or trial or imminently threatens the accused.’

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The court also stated that a person will have his/her fundamental rights intact even if he/she is not in the court claiming their right to be silent. The Court took into consideration M.P. Sharma’s case and held that the guarantee under Article 20(3) would be available to those people against whom a First Information Report(FIR) has been recorded as accused. It would extend to any compulsory process for the production of evidentiary documents which are reasonably likely to support a prosecution against them.

While deciding the ambit of article 20(3) of the Constitution, the Court held that insistence on answering is a form of pressure especially in the atmosphere or environment of the police station unless certain safeguards erasing duress are used. The court took into account the cruel and brutal practice that police take against an accused so that he/she accepts his/her wrongdoing. 

Frequent threats of prosecution if there is failure to answer may take on the complexion of undue pressure violating Article 20(3). Legal penalty may by itself not amount to duress but the way of mentioning it to the victim during interrogation may bring in an element of tension and tone of command that forces compulsion.

So, the framers of the constitution considered the mental and physical torture an accused person has to face while police interrogate them and because of which  Article 20 (3) is applied from the initial stage of any criminal trial that is when the police start their interrogation with the accused.

The term under section 161 of Cr. P. C includes accused persons as well as witnesses. Section 161(2) was held to be an extension of article 20(3) as it provides an accused the right against self-incrimination. 

CONCLUSION :

The appeal was allowed and the prosecutor proceedings were quashed. Article 20(3) with section 161(2) of CrPC has a broad concept and it protects the right to be silent. 

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