Ashish Jain vs Makrand Singh - Important Supreme Court Judgment 2019

Ashish Jain vs Makrand Singh - Important Supreme Court Judgment 2019

In the case of Ashish Jain v. Makrand Singh and Ors. [Criminal Appeal No. 1980 of 2008], the Supreme Court, inter alia, re-appraised the fingerprint evidence while examining the impugned judgment of High Court which had acquitted the accusedrespondents from charges of murder and robbery.


The Supreme Court did not agree with the conclusion of the High Court that the fingerprint samples of the accused “were illegally obtained, being in contravention of the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920, inasmuch as they were obtained without a magisterial order.” The Court took note of Section 4 of the Act which “refers to the power of a police officer to direct taking of measurements, including fingerprints” and “Section 5 which “provides for the taking of such samples upon an order of a Magistrate, if the Magistrate is satisfied as to its expediency”, however, observed that “Section 5 is not mandatory but is directory.” Even otherwise, the Court observed that a bare reading of Rules 3, 4 and 5, of the rules framed by the State government for carrying into effect the provisions of the Act, made “it amply clear that a police officer is permitted to take the photographs and measurements of the accused” and “fingerprints can be taken under the directions of the police officer.”


It was held that although Section 4 of the Act “mentions that the police officer is competent to take measurements of the accused, but to dispel doubts as to its bona fides and to rule out the fabrication of evidence, it is eminently desirable that they were taken before or under the order of a Magistrate.” However, it was also held that this cannot mean that “under Section 4, police officers are not entitled to take fingerprints until the order is taken from a Magistrate.” It was held that “if certain suspicious circumstances do arise from a particular case relating to lifting of fingerprints, in order to dispel or ward off such suspicious circumstances, it would be in the interest of justice to get orders from the Magistrate. Thus there cannot be any hard and fast rule that in every case, there should be a magisterial order for lifting the fingerprints of the accused.”


Accordingly, the Supreme Court said that on facts, “it cannot be held that the fingerprint evidence was illegally obtained merely due to the absence of a magisterial order authorizing the same.”


However, at the same time, the Supreme Court found that “in the current facts and circumstances, the absence of a magisterial order casts doubts on the credibility of the fingerprint evidence, especially with respect to the packing and sealing of the tumblers on which the fingerprints were allegedly found, given that the attesting witnesses were not independent witnesses, being the family members of the deceased.” The Supreme Court said that it “cannot rule out the possibility of tampering and post-facto addition of fingerprints”, and concurred “with the High Court in discarding the fingerprint evidence.” The Supreme Court did “not find any glaring infirmity in the acquittal granted by the High Court”; rather found “it wellreasoned, and thus, “the judgment and order of acquittal of the High Court” was “maintained.” 


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