This article is authored by Priyansh Agarwal a 2nd Year Student from The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata.
An investigation, which includes a complete examination of the collected evidence, is needed to prove the case in the Court of law beyond a reasonable doubt. For this purpose, collection or an inquiry of evidence is made in both manners, including a fair compilation of ocular evidence present on the crime scene and the biological/medical evidence, which are subsequently put together to be presented in the Court of law. There may be a point in the Court where ocular or physical evidence is not enough to get justice. However, the scientific research prepared by the medico-legal team/ doctors on the pieces of evidence may amount to a bit in the light of the judge's judgment. Even other physical evidence is taken together with the doctors' medical reports, which may only be a file of the information; still, it is considered and valued in bringing justice.
As the adjudication of homicide cases are made, the opinion given by the medical experts is always taken; to find out how the death has been caused, what are the weapons likely to be used in the case, how much poison was necessary to cause death and the expected time at which the person died.
The term homicide means causing the death of one person by another person. Homicide is not always a crime in the Court of law; for example, if we say that the death of a person is caused in the self defence by another person or say the suspected person died by gunshot while police were chasing the criminal. In many or most of the homicide cases, medical experts have to ascertain what is imperative medical-scientific evidence that could be produced before the Court. Medical experts also help the courts to understand how the anatomy of human works.
In this research study, I'll touch upon the things related to the relevance of medical opinion in homicide cases, naming a few would be; the history of how the relevance of medical opinion in homicide cases was appreciated in the Court, how it helped in determining the Mens Rea of an offender, the nature of what the cause and effect of medical opinion in homicide cases are, etc. Medical experts sometimes create the same situation to explain their evidence to the Court; however, it is very unlikely that those hypothetical situations will be accepted by the Court.
India, a country that is a part of common law, deals with the cases which are related to Homicide is under §299, which talks about culpable Homicide, and §300, which talks about murder, of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.[i]Also, §45 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872, says about the opinion of experts in the Court of law; it goes on to say that when there is a point in Court of law to form an opinion on foreign law, science, the identity of handwriting, fingerprint, or the art, then the opinions of the people skilled in these things are called experts.[ii]
· What is the scope of acceptance of medical opinions in homicide cases by the courts?
· Why is medical opinion even needed in the presence of direct evidence?
· What is the extent to the meaning of the word "being advisory" in the medical opinions?
· How do the courts deal with differences in Medical opinions and direct offences?
History of medical opinion relevance in homicide cases:
Medicine has been a part of the law for a very long period, and it has been said that what held them together was faith, superstition, and magic. In about the 7th century, the physicians were taught their duties, their socio-economic status, and their privileges. The training gave them detailed knowledge of the poisons and how the treatment could be done. Earlier In the 4th century, when Manusmriti laid down the laws, it also recognised the point of mental incapacity of a person due to various reasons, including intoxication, age, etc. And knowledge in the scientific-medical field was used in law to get justice.
The first noted case of Homicide in which medical reports help was sought happened to be in 1302; it was done in Italy to help in the investigation of a person who died in China. Due to this event, In 1507, it was made mandatory to produce medical evidence in some cases in Germany. And thereafter, it was known to proclaim in almost all nation's law. One of the critical areas for courts was to adjudicate the assertion of a cause of death, whether (natural) or not. That being the case, from the evolution of medicolegal opinions in the homicide cases, Courts found it essential to seek their views since the experts were taught and trained in the most disciplined manner to be a part of (or assistant thereof) the criminal justice system. Even today, the courts (following the precedents) look for the reports generated by the forensic experts to entertain the rule of law and bring justice in its most efficacious manner.
The relevance of medical opinion in homicide cases:
A medical expert's opinion actually cannot be considered to be a witness of fact. The opinion given by the expert is solely an advisory opinion, which is up to the Court to take into account.[iii] A medical expert has a duty of giving necessary findings of the case to the judge for concluding the judgement along with the other evidence.
All the medical evidence is used to confirm or recheck with the evidence in hand. At the same time, the medical evidence itself will not be able to persuade the Court to the point beyond a reasonable doubt to prove the accused guilty or innocent of the alleged crime. For the evidence or opinions given by medical experts, which are confirmed with the other admissible evidence, then the medical opinion can be relied upon. As it is mention in the principles and the Digest of the Law of Evidence by the then Justice Monir that 'when the medico-person, who is known to be an expert, does not witness the facts since the opinions given by him are not direct evidence to what caused the crime, the opinion stated gives us all the probabilities that might have caused the certain crime. Then the opinions given by him in the Court have value only to such extent where the opinions corroborate with the eye-witnesses to support it, or it is otherwise opposite to what is alleged and takes away the likelihood of occurrence of crime. Even though the weightage of eye-witness evidence is taken into consideration more progressively, but the relevance of the medical opinion also contains substantial weightage in determining the findings of the court and is there to endorse those eye witness evidence’s statements. The prosecution side takes the help of medical opinion on-hand with eye-witnesses to account for the occurrence of crime in a meticulous action. And the opinion given by a medical expert can also be used to disqualify the eye-witness' statement as and when the crime could not have happened as alleged by the witness.
The medical opinion, even after being advisory and not exclusively binding, Sometimes situations could occur where medico-scientific opinion could be used to rule out all the possibility of happening of a certain crime situation which was said to be happened by an eye-witness. As it has been there in the law, that direct evidence would always be admissible in the Court of law; however, if the direct eye-witnesses are doubtful due to the improbability of happening by medical opinion's evidence, then those pieces of evidence are discarded by the Court and Court may not accept both of them. Therefore, the medical opinion is imperative, which is proven by science should always be in line with that of the other shreds of evidence present in the case.[iv]
Even in the case of Milkiyat Singh V. State of Rajasthan,[v] The facts are, when Surjit Singh and his brothers balbir Singh and Jagir Singh (Complainants) was going to Jandwala village to see Surjit’s wife who was ill, they found Milkiyat Singh along with the other alleged perpetrators (Defendants). After which gunshots were fired from both the sides. The complainaints then (alleged) that bullet shots were fired by the defendants that killed Balbir Singh at the place of incident whereas the defendant claimed that the complaints at the first hand opened the fire to which they retailiated, but, the medical reports were uncertain about the allegations levelled. Hence, the learned judge opined 'since due to the contradictions in the pieces of evidence which were produced in this Court, it is very hard to say that the certainty of the event occurred is same as in the manner ascertained by the eye-witness in the Court. Medical opinions are strongly against the prosecution allegations or evidence and are therefore very difficult for the Court to reach a definite conclusion. In situations like these, courts often don't find it appropriate to convict the accused. The accused were alleged to have murdered (§302, §307) with common intention (§34), and so in this case, the Court acquits the accused from the charges framed against them.
Also that in the case of Vahula Bhushan v. State of Tamil Nadu, it was held that until and unless the medical opinion removes all the possibilities of the situation alleged by the side of the prosecution, then other eye-witness or direct pieces of evidence cannot be ruled out. It was said that in the situation where it can be comprehended that the direct witness is credible and can be relied upon, then medical opinion directing towards different possible situations won't be accepted as evidence beyond doubt.[vi] In the case Gofur Sheikh v. State, it was clearly stated that when the reports of post-mortem of the deceased are not offered in the Court to consider it as evidence and the examination of the medical officer who prepared the report, the medico-forensic expert who prepared the report is not examined in the Court; then the same medical opinion cannot be regarded as the essential evidence to the case.[vii]
Since in several deaths, the bodies of the deceased are cremated or either disposed of without a medical autopsy being done. Therefore due to this, there is a large probability of homicide cases being missed, and such cases then are not chased by the police.
Scrutinizing the means of killing used for the Homicide:
When a trial for any homicide case happens, the opinion given by the medical experts are given crucial importance so as to identify how the death has been caused, what was the probable weapon used, how the injuries affected to lead death, the amount of poison, would the wounded person have died if in the everyday situation the wound not have been there? The time of the injury caused and the time at which the deceased succumbed. The medical opinion given enhances the value of the evidence of prosecution if it corroborates with them and could be used as verifiable. In the cases in which the person is killed by a dangerous weapon, then the side of the prosecution has a responsibility as well as for the Court to prove or disprove it by the medical expert's opinion that the weapon in all/no probability would have killed the person if it is used in an alleged manner.[viii]
When a post-mortem is done by a medical expert to find out the cause of death and to investigate injuries through scientific methods, then those reports can certainly opine different aspects of the case, for instance, if a bullet shot hits a person from a very short distance, then the medical reports according to the injuries or wounds depth would reveal that shot was taken from very close range. It also reveals the type of weapon used to injure a person by investigating the wounds. The opinion of the medical expert could not just be attributed as an opinion, but it has been time and again used as direct evidence from the victim's body.[ix] In Mayur v. State of Gujarat, the Hon'ble Judges of the Supreme Court held that when the medical experts are sought in the Court to testify, the opinions given by them should be accepted as the other witnesses. The Court goes on to say that the opinions of medical experts are not those that cannot be rebutted on a presumption that a doctor will never say a false statement.[x]
Normally, the statement was given by the eye-witnesses to the extent of saying which weapons were used in the Homicide, then that statement is used to understand the crime, and most often, that statement becomes the presumption of the Court. In Gurmej Singh v. State of Punjab, the witness observed and stated in the Court that the blunt side of the weapon was used in the killing of a person, and the medico-forensic post-mortem report of the deceased found out that in the normal course of action, the weapon used would have caused a sharp cut on the body, but only the marks or abrasions were found. Therefore, what the prosecution said was accepted, and the convict was charged for §302.[xi]Even though the courts have always been in the favor that medical opinion could only be used as evidence of fact to the extent until the direct eye-evidences corroborates with them so as to confirm the alleged weapon of crime.[xii] But at times, when medical experts are of the opinion which is completely in all conditions different from what the prosecution witnesses are saying, then the prosecution side would fail.[xiii]
The homicide cases where death happens due to the poisoning of the deceased person, in such cases often the medical experts' opinion has to be used so as to gather information about the Mens Rea of the convict since the report will clearly mention the amount of poison given and the amount of poison which was necessary to kill a person.
In all homicide cases, there are situations where it is hard to find out the witness to the fact, and therefore it is imperative for the courts to verify which facts are true or not. And medical opinions being equitable in nature are used to rely upon in the courts.
What difference does the medical opinion make?
Homicide cases are hard to prove if no medical investigation is done since the fact-finding in these cases may always leave a pinch of doubt behind it. The medical investigation must be done such that it is fair, unbiased, and unprejudiced because the fact-findings of the medical experts could lead to the conviction or acquittal of the person alleged to be a criminal. At the same time, the experts' opinion should not be dogmatic about the facts found, such that it mislead the Court. These opinions are used by the Court at times to the extent where due to the medical experts' opinion being irrefutable, the Court denied accepting the evidence of eye-witness and accepted the medico-forensic opinion.[xiv] The findings of the medical expert could also be erroneous, may be due to an error in the reports, or mistake in the investigation, or an honest mistake, which could lead to the erroneous judgment and conviction or acquittal of the accused. It could happen that if two medical experts are investigating the same crime, then the two reports could be different, which could be because the one expert examined the body when the person was alive, and the other was examined after the death so as investigate about the causation of death or the alleged weapon used or the time of death, etc. In situations like this, the benefit of doubt goes in favor of the accused.
Every time when Court has to rely on the views which are written in the books like medical-jurisprudence, the opinions of the doctors must be kept in mind with respect to the views taken in these books so as to ascertain the facts finding of the case.[xv] In the instances where comes confusion due to the different views taken in different books of medical-jurisprudence, then the book which has been more detailed and specialized in the topic in question would be preferred.[xvi] Book in itself cannot be attributed as evidence, but if a medical expert uses the books to explain his opinions, then these views could be adopted as a witness.
In homicide cases, even if it is proved that the act has been done by the accused, even then, there is doubt left as to whether the act was sufficient to cause the death of the person or not? For example, If there is an instance of murder, then, at certain events, the acts of accused would be simple enough to be comprehended as they prima facie appear to the court, but, nevertheless there are events when the acts of the accused are complex and courts find the opinion of medical reports to be in contravention of the facts alleged.. Then at that place, as in the case of Milkiyat Singh, Courts have also been of the opinion that in a situation where a medical expert cannot opine on the injuries of the victim, the probability that the alleged person has caused that injury is nullified and are reluctant to take punitive actions in the light of uncertain facts.[xvii] Doctors are also expected to give a well-argued reason behind what their opinions are.
In Rewa Ram v. State of Madhya Pradesh, it was noted that several injuries by knife were caused by the accused to the victim. After which, she was operated on in the hospital, due to which the victim developed hyperpyrexia. Hyperpyrexia happened due to the effect of temperature on weak people. The post-mortem report of the victim opined that the death of the individual happened due to hyperpyrexia and not due to the injuries of the victim. But here, the Court was of the opinion that the condition of hyperpyrexia of accused happened due to the operation of injuries caused by the accused and thus he has caused the death and hence he was charged with murder.[xviii]
Therefore, the courts have been accepting the medical experts' opinion in the cases of injury on the body of a person.
Admissibility of Ocular or physical evidence against medical opinion:
Eye-witnesses or ocular physical evidence are direct evidence-primarily accepted in the Court of law, whereas the medical opinion is not considered to be the witness of fact. This means that the medical opinion is treated as the only advisory in nature and is not binding upon the Court.[xix] The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, as such does not define medical evidence as such, but §45 of the same act define the admissibility of the experts' opinion in the science field. Medical opinions are rarely considered to be decisive in nature, and courts are under the impression that they don't easily just rely only on medical opinion except in some cases.[xx] There have been conflicts whenever Courts interpret the oral/physical evidence and medical opinions as a matter of fact. More often in these conflicts, the oral/physical evidence prevails over the medical opinions, but at instances, courts also neglected the ocular/oral evidence where the probability of an event being alleged by the prosecution witness was lined out by the medical opinions.[xxi] However, this direct evidence cannot be overthrown on the basis that the ocular evidence and the medical evidence have a conflict between them.[xxii]
In the case, the State of Haryana v. Bhagirath, the significance of both the ocular/oral evidence and the medical evidence has been distinguished out. It has been said that the opinions of a medical expert in the Court cannot be said as the last and final evidence, and also, the Court should ascertain the factuality of the medical opinion. And if medical opinion fails to identify the possible factual situation, then the Court will neglect that opinion.[xxiii] Since there is no rigid principle regarding the opinion of a medical experts' acceptance or rejection on the basis that it is varied from what the eye witness says, the acceptance or rejection of a medical opinion is depended upon the type of facts given by the eye-witness and the credibility of the medical opinions.[xxiv] The conviction of the accused can be based upon medical evidence such as the dying declaration recorded by the doctor whilst treatment.[xxv]
Therefore, after this discussion, we can comprehend that ocular or oral evidence is of higher magnitude than the medical cases. However, when the two of them have great dissimilarity, then other possible situations are taken into account to reach a conclusion, as it happened in the case of Thaman Kumar v. State of Union Territory of Chandigarh.[xxvi] Medical opinions are often used to lead the Court to the right decision if the eye-witness evidence is hindered upon.
Determination of Mens Rea from the medical opinion:
When a crime constitutes a guilty mind/mens rea or what we call it as the state of mind of the accused when the crime was committed by him, can it lead in helping the Court to find out whether the crime committed was intentional or not? For example: if there are two people riding bikes, if the 1st driver ends up hitting a person and the person dies, who he saw very late when it was out of his hand to stop the bike. Here the intention of the rider was not to kill the person. He will still be liable but to a very less extent. In other situations, the 2nd rider ends up hitting and killing a person intentionally. So here, the rider would be charged for the offence of murder itself.
Determination of mens rea is necessary because it is an indirect method of proving a case that the said crime was committed intentionally or unintentionally. In fact, in taking the defense of insanity, the Court has to use medical opinions to ascertain the mens rea of the accused. As in the Choteylal vs. State, the accused was charged under 302 of IPC, 1860. But plead for the defence of insanity, and the same was found with the help of medical opinions, and hence he was acquitted.[xxvii]It should also be kept in mind that the opinions of medical experts can also be forged intentionally or unintentionally and further can lead to injustice as well.
After the whole discussion above, we can say that the aim of the opinions of medical experts' is to help in the right execution of the cases; however, in some situations, they can do injustice as well. With the aid of these opinions, in Homicide cases, as we discussed, its relevance is of great value in hand with the direct eye-witnesses as discussed. The expertise of the doctors in their respective fields should be attested to before accepting their opinions. The opinions are further used to determine the factors affecting the mind of the accused. We have found that the medical opinions in certain cases have given a completely different view from what the eye-witness said.
Medical opinions, although advisory, are so essential part of a legal justice system that they cannot be detached from it. The efficiency of medical opinions can be enhanced if strict and proper training is given to the experts. However, taking into consideration the present day scenario where the cases involving affluent and powerful people are susceptible to tamper or influence the medical reports or the presiding medical officers probing into the matter. Thus, the reports must be considered as and when found in corroboration with the reports of the other govt agencies’ medical officer that could be appointed by the court for scrutinizing the medical details and then imposing necessary punitive or acquitting actions while making the judgement.
[i] Indian Penal Code, 1860. [ii]Indian Evidence Act, 1872. [iii]Awadhesh v. State of M.P. AIR 1988 SC 1158. [iv]Solanki Chimanbhai Ukabhai v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1983 SC 484. [v]Milkiyat Singh V. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1981 SC 1579 [vi]Vahula Bhushan v. State of Tamil Nadu , AIR 1989 SC 236. [vii]Gofur Sheikh v. State, 1984 Cr.L.J. 559 (Cal) (DB). [viii]Mohinder Singh v. State, AIR 1953 SC 415. [ix]Nagindra Bala Mitra v. Sunil Chandra Roy, AIR 1960 SC 706. [x]Mayur v. State of Gujarat , AIR 1983 SC 66. [xi]Gurmej Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1992 SC 214. [xii]Thaman Kumar v. State of Union Territory of Chandigarh, AIR 2003 SC 3975. [xiii]Supra, 3. [xiv]I.d. [xv]Bhagwandas v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1957 SC 589. [xvi]Mahendra Manilal Nanavati v. Sushila Mahendra Nanavati, AIR 1965 SC 364 at p. 380. [xvii]Machindra v. Sajjan Galfa Rankhamb and Ors. (2017) 13 SCC 491. [xviii]Rewaram v. State of Madhya Pradesh , (1978) Cr LJ 858 (MP). [xix]Madan Gopal Kakkad v. Naval Dubey (1992) 3 SCC 204, 222. [xx]Mani Ram v. State of Rajasthan, AIR (2001) 9 SCC 589. [xxi]Supra 4. [xxii]Nanhau Ram v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1988 SC 912. [xxiii]State of Haryana v. Bhagirath, AIR 1999 SC 2005. [xxiv]Chiguripati Suryanarayana v. State of Andhra pradesh 1999 (1) ALD 590. [xxv]Suresh v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1987 SC 860. [xxvi]Supra 14. [xxvii]Choteylal v. State, 1956 CriLJ 1291.