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Analysis of K.M. Nanavati v/s State of Maharashtra 1962 AIR 605 1962 SCR suppl

The case of K.M. Nanavati v. the State of Maharashtra is regarded as a turning point in Indian legal history. As a result of this case, the Government abolished the jury system in India. That's why this case is also known as the last jury trial in India. This case simplifies an important concept known as 'Grave and Sudden Provocation.'

Numerous books and films have been inspired by this case. In this case, several crucial legal issues have been raised, including the general exception plea, the burden of proof, the sudden provocation test, and the authority of the high court to determine the suitability of the reference made by the session judge.

  • K.M. Nanavati, the accused in this case, was the second in command of an Indian Naval ship. He married Sylvia in the registry office in Portsmouth, England in 1949, and they have three children: a boy aged nine and a half years, a girl aged five and a half years, and another boy aged three years. Because of the nature of Nanavati's job, the couple has been living in different places since their marriage. After all, they did eventually relocate to Bombay.
  • Prem Bhagwan Ahuja, a businessman, was living in the same city with his sister. Ahuja and his sister were introduced to Nanavati in 1956 by Agniks, who were mutual acquaintances of the Ahuja's and Nanavati's. Ahuja was unmarried and approximately 34 years old when he died.
  • When Nanavati was frequently away from Bombay on official duty for extended periods of time, his wife Sylvia fell in love with Prem Ahuja and began illicit relations with him.
  • When Nanavati returned from his ship, he attempted to be affectionate to his wife, but she was unresponsive on several occasions. On 27 April 1959, Nanavati asked his wife if she had been faithful to him. She simply shook her head to show that she was not. Sylvia confessed to her husband about her illicit relationship with Prem Ahuja on same date.
  • As a result of this, Nanavati became enraged and decided to settle the matter with Ahuja. He then drove his car to his ship, where he took a semi-automatic revolver and six cartridges and placed them in the brown envelope on the false pretax.
  • Then he went to Ahuja's office and when he didn't find him there, Nanavati went to his house and entered Ahuja's bedroom and shut it from the inside. Nanavati requested that Ahuja marry Sylvia and care for his children. "Am I married to every woman I sleep with?" Ahuja responded. Then a fight breaks out between Ahuja and Nanavati, during which Nanavati shoots Ahuja. He then turned himself in to a nearby police station. K.M. Nanavati has been charged.
    • The accused, K.M. Nanavati, was initially found not guilty under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 by 8: 1 jury verdict.
    • Then the case was referred to the Hon'ble High Court of Bombay by the Sessions Judge under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
    • The accused was found guilty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code by the Hon'ble High Court.
    • Finally, an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court.

Arguments made by the petitioner
  1. The defence put forth by Nanavati's counsel was that Nanavati wanted to commit suicide after hearing Sylvia's confession, but his wife was able to talk him out of it. She didn't let him know whether Ahuja wanted to marry her or not, so he intended to find out. As a result, he drove to his ship after dropping off his wife and two kids at the movie theatre.
  2. Nanavati told the officers of the ship that he was going to drive alone to Ahmednagar by night and needed a revolver and six rounds, but his real goal was to shoot himself. After receiving them, he put the revolver and six cartridges inside a brown envelope.
  3. Then Nanavati drove to Ahuja's office, but when he wasn't there, he drove to Ahuja's apartment. Ahuja's servant unlocked the flat then Nanavati entered Ahuja's bedroom and shut the door behind him. The revolver's envelope was also in his possession.
  4. When Nanavati entered Ahuja's bedroom, he saw that Ahuja calling him dirty pig in the bedroom, he asked him that He would marry sylvia and take care of his children. Ahuja replied that "Am I marry to every woman I sleep with?" The accused angered and threatened to kill the deceased by putting envelope and a revolver in a nearby cabinet. The deceased suddenly took the action, and snatched the envelope, the accused said to take out the revolver and come back.
  5. There was a fight between Nanavati and Ahuja, and in that fight, two shots accidentally fell and killed Ahuja. After that shooting, the defendant returned to his car and went to the nearby police station to surrender. Therefore, the accusations against the dead were made with serious and sudden provocations, so even if you committed a crime it was not a murder, but a culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Arguments made by the respondent:
  1. The first point of contention was that Ahuja was still wearing a towel after just exiting the shower. When his body was found, his towel was still on it. In the case of a fight, it was quite unlikely that it would have become loose or fallen off.
  2. Also, after sylvia's confession, the accused calmed them down and gather his family, brought them to cinema, left them to cinema and then went to his store to take the revolver. This shows that he has enough time to calm down, the provocation is not serious or sudden, and that Nanavati planned the murder.
  3. Anjani, Ahuja's servant who was there at the time of the incident and was a natural witness, testified that four shots were fired in rapid succession and that the entire event occurred in less than a minute, ruling out a scuffle.
  4. Nanavati left Ahuja's house without alerting his sister Mamie, who was in another room, that there had been an accident.
  5. According to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Nanavati admitted to shooting Ahuja and even corrected a spelling error in the police record, proving Nanavati's capacity to think normally.

Trial by Jury
As the case initially proceeded to session court, and where the jury trial on this case was taking place. Nanavati was found not guilty by a jury finding of 8:1 under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. However, the Session Judge was dissatisfied with the jury trial result, viewing it as perverse and illogical, and referred the matter to the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Decision of Hon'ble High Court:
The High Court overruled the jury trial's result on the grounds that the prosecutor's confession, or any specific incident in Ahuja's bedroom, or both, did not amount to grave and sudden provocation.

Nanavati bore the burden of establishing that it was an accident rather than preplanned murder.

The jury was not told that Nanavati's defence had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the opinion of a reasonable person. And the accused was found guilty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860. The accused filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of India,

Decision of Hon'ble Supreme Court:
As the Supreme Court pointed out that the wife's confession of adultery was grave, but Ahuja was not there at the moment the confession was made, so the element of suddenness of murdering was missing. The Court ruled that a reasonable man had had ample time to cool down since the provocation because three hours had passed between the time of confession and the time of the killing.

The Supreme Court concluded that the accused's conviction under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and the High Court's sentence of life imprisonment are valid, and there are no grounds for interference.
  1. According to the Hon'ble Supreme Court If the judge disagrees with the jury's decision, he can refer the case to the High Court under subsection (1) of Section 307 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

    The following two conditions must be met: (i) The judge must disagree with the jury's judgment, and (ii) he must believe that the jury's verdict could not have been reached by a reasonable person. The referral order will be considered competent if and only if these two conditions are met; otherwise, it will be ruled ineffective and rejected by the High Court.
  2. When the High Court rules that the order of reference is competent, it must carry out the duties outlined in subsection (3) of Section 307 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The High Court must consider all evidence, give fair weight to the judge's and jury's opinions, and ultimately acquit or condemn the accused under this section. The defendant's skilled counsel argued that the opposite reading would violate the clause's goal.
  3. Shelat, J., having held that there were misdirections to the jury, reviewed the entire evidence and came to the conclusion that the accused was clearly guilty of the offence of murder, alternatively, he expressed the view that the verdict of the jury was perverse, unreasonable and, in any event, contrary to the weight of evidence.

    The Court agreed with the High Court's findings regarding the Judge's claim of misdirection. It stated that the question of whether a misdirection tainted the jury's decision must be assessed in light of the misdirection's anticipated influence on the lay jury. The Supreme Court went on to add that the judge's charge to the jury's aim is to explain and convey to them the facts and circumstances of the case. The Judge's role is to ensure that the jury understands the law and its implications, as well as to present all of the evidence to them in order for them to reach the best possible judgment.
  4. After evaluating all of the evidence, the Hon'ble Court concluded that the appellant's actions were inconsistent with his defence that the dead was shot by mistake. On the other hand, he had the mindset of someone who had planned and plotted retribution on his wife's lover. He took the handgun and marched into Ahuja's bedroom with a loaded firearm under a false pretence. Despite repeated opportunities, he did not tell anyone that he accidentally shot the deceased until his trial. The injuries discovered on the deceased's body were consistent with a preplanned gunshot. As a result, the Court came to the conclusion that no reasonable group of men could have reached the same determination as the jury based on the evidence.
  5. The Court concluded after reviewing the case's facts that the accused/appellant had gained self-control and was also thinking about the future of his family. He had plenty of time to cool off after his wife told him she had been unfaithful. His actions were plainly calculated and purposeful. The case did not fall under the defence of, grave and sudden provocation and that it was premeditated murder.
  6. In the second issue, the Supreme Court dismissed the Special Leave Petition, holding that he cannot claim it unless he surrenders under Article 142 of the Constitution of India.
  7. The Supreme Court also ruled that the governor's pardon application and the Special Leave Petition cannot be handled concurrently. If an Special Leave Petition is filed, the Governor's power will be terminated.
  8. The Supreme Court ruled that the facts of the case do not fall under Exception 1. of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the accused is guilty of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the High Court's judgment of life imprisonment on the accused is correct, with no grounds for interference. And the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.

One of the most contentious cases handled by the Indian judiciary was the K.M. Nanavati case. The case received tremendous media coverage from a jury judgment of not guilty to being found guilty of murder by the Supreme Court, which most likely had a substantial impact on the jury's decision.

This decision drew national attention due to the fact that the crime of adultery resulted in murder but did not amount to culpable homicide.

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