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Witness exaggerations no tall story: HC

MUMBAI: Witnesses tend to exaggerate, says the Bombay high court. And if courts reject evidence only because of this, then it will be difficult to find a witness who can describe an incident with forensic accuracy.

Justice R C Chavan heard an appeal against conviction filed by Sandeep Polekar (23) a resident of Nallasopara, Thane. The additional sessions judge, Palghar, sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment under the IPC’s section 304, part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder).

On November 6, 2005, Samir was playing cricket with friends. Sandeep allegedly picked a quarrel and hit Samir with a bat. Samir fell down after receiving the blow on his head. Sandeep allegedly hit him twice more, which made Samir bleed from the nose and mouth. He was taken to hospital, but died four days later.

Before the HC, Sandeep’s advocate Prakash Naik argued that since the autopsy stated the possibility of the victim suffering injury due to a fall on a stony or rough surface, his client could not be held guilty; also, the evidence of the four witnesses was unreliable because while they testified that Samir received three blows, medical evidence showed just one injury–on the head. Naik said the trial judge should have rejected the “exaggerated” evidence. The additional public prosecutor countered by saying that the witnesses might not be lying since it was not necessary for each blow to have actually hit the victim’s body.

Justice Chavan noted in his July 19, 2011 order “that the story (of the) three blows is difficult to digest” because all four witnesses stated that after the first blow, the victim fell down. Two blows were administered when he was immobile. “There would be no possibility of the blows missing the target,” the judge wrote. He said that in view of the doctor’s observation that there was only one injury, the theory of three blows had to be discarded.

Justice Chavan said that it still did not follow that the evidence of the four witnesses had to be rejected. “There is a tendency of witnesses to exaggerate and if courts were to reject the evidence because of such exaggeration, it would be difficult to find a witness who would with forensic accuracy describe the incident as it actually took place,” he noted, adding that for this reason, their testimonies could not be rejected and also because they had absolutely no reason to falsely implicate Sandeep.

Naik said that since Sandeep was sentenced to seven years’ RI on the premise that he authored the three blows, it should be set aside. Justice Chavan said the conviction could not be faulted as the judge was right in holding that the act was not done with the intention of causing death; he directed for it to be reduced to five years. The court was informed that Sandeep had been in jail since November 2005 and had served a period more than that of the sentence. The judge directed for Sandeep to be freed.

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