Judicial Updates -
SUPREME COURT - ACQUITTAL BASED ON LACK OF COMMON OBJECT IN SECTION 149 OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860.
In the case of Naresh Nehru v. State of Haryana [Criminal Appeal No. 1786 of 2023]. The importance of concrete evidence to establish the common object in cases involving Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code,1860 (“IPC”) was emphasized. This section deals with the liability of members of an unlawful assembly.
The case dates back to April 2016, involving a shooting incident in Maheshwari village. After learning that a small boy had been shot with a gun, Assistant Sub-Inspector Ram Kishan reported the event. The shooting took place on the day of “Dulhandi” based on a subsequent investigation, and the accused had threatened to kill the victim, Ajay, during the conflict. The accused were detained and charged under several sections of the IPC and Arms Act, 1959.
Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that “Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object.—If an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of that object, every person who, at the time of the committing of that offence, is a member of the same assembly, is guilty of that offence”.
The Sessions Judge had convicted the accused persons under section 302 read with section 149 of the IPC. The High Court upheld the conviction of the accused persons and held that every member of the unlawful assembly had inhibited the common intention to accomplish the unlawful object.
However, the Supreme Court held that the intention of the crime was created during a quarrel on a certain day where the accused persons were not involved, thus, it cannot be stated that the accused persons had a common motive to accomplish the unlawful object alleged and the prosecution also failed to establish the same.
The Supreme Court of India held that to be found guilty under section 149 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, two essential facts must be proved which are as follows:
“That the appellants shared a common object and were involved in an unlawful gathering.
That they were aware of the crimes that were likely to be committed in order to achieve the goal.”
The Supreme Court referred to case of Roy Fernandes v. State of Goa [(2012) 3 SCC 221], which emphasized that a member of an unlawful assembly must have knowledge that the murder of the deceased was a likely event in pursuit of the common object. The Court also relied on Lalji v. State of Uttar Pradesh [(1989) 1 SCC 437], in which the common object of the unlawful assembly could be gathered from the weapons used during the fight, the nature of the assembly and their behaviour.
In this case, the Apex Court determined that the prosecution had failed to establish that the Appellants and other participants in the alleged unlawful assembly shared a common goal. The motive for the crime was related to a quarrel that occurred between the accused and the victim on the day of Dulhandi, and there was no evidence connecting the Appellants to the fight. The Supreme Court held that the case did not have the necessary components to convict the accused under Section 149 of the IPC.
As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove the appellants' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and set aside their convictions, ultimately acquitting them.