Discharge of Accused in Criminal Cases.
In Bhushan Kumar v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2012) 5 SCC 424, the Supreme Court observed that it is the bounden duty of the Trial Court in Section 251 Cr.P.C. to satisfy whether the offence against the accused is made out or not and to discharge the accused if no case is made out against him. The relevant findings of the Supreme Court are reproduced hereunder:-
“20. It is inherent in Section 251 of the Code that when an accused appears before the trial Court pursuant to summons issued under Section 204 of the Code in a summons trial case, it is the bounden duty of the trial Court to carefully go through the allegations made in the charge-sheet or complaint and consider the evidence to come to a conclusion whether or not, commission of any offence is disclosed and if the answer is in the affirmative, the Magistrate shall explain the substance of the accusation to the accusation to the accused and ask him whether he pleads guilty otherwise, he is bound to discharge the accused as per Section 239 of the Code.”
However, in a warrant trial instituted otherwise than on a police report, when the accused appears or is brought before the Magistrate under Section 244(1) Cr.P.C., the Magistrate has to hear the prosecution and take all such evidence, as may be produced in support of the prosecution. In this, the Magistrate may issue summons to the witnesses also under Section 244(2) Cr.P.C. on the application by prosecution. All this evidence is evidence before charge. It is after all this, evidence is taken, then the Magistrate has to consider under Section 245(1) Cr.P.C., whether any case against the accused is made out, which, if unrebutted, would warrant his conviction, and if the Magistrate comes to the conclusion that there is no such case made out against the accused, the Magistrate proceeds to discharge him. On the other hand, if he is satisfied about the prima facie case against the accused, the Magistrate would frame a charge under Section 246(1) Cr.P.C. The complainant then gets the second opportunity to lead evidence in support of the charge unlike a warrant trial on police report, where there is only one opportunity.
In the warrant trial instituted otherwise than the police report, the complainant gets two opportunities to lead evidence, firstly, before the charge is framed and secondly, after the charge. Of course, under Section 245(2) Cr.P.C., a Magistrate can discharge the accused at any previous stage of the case, if he finds the charge to be groundless.
Sec.248. Acquittal or conviction.
(1) If, in any case under this Chapter in which a charge has been framed, the Magistrate finds the accused not guilty, he shall record an order of acquittal.
(2) Where, in any case under this Chapter, the Magistrate finds the accused guilty, but does not proceed in accordance with the provisions
of section 325 or section 360, he shall, after hearing the accused on the question of sentence, pass sentence upon him according to law.
(3) Where, in any case under this Chapter, a previous conviction is charged under the provisions of sub- section (7) of section 211 and the accused does not admit that he has been previously convicted as alleged in the charge, the Magistrate may, after he has convicted the said accused, take evidence in respect of the alleged previous conviction, and shall record a finding thereon: Provided that no such charge shall be read out by the Magistrate nor shall the accused be asked to plead thereto nor shall the previous conviction be referred to by the prosecution or in any evidence adduced by it, unless and until the accused has been convicted under sub- section (2).
A perusal of section 248 Cr.P.C. shows that the Magistrate may either acquit the accused but in case he finds him guilty, he may either proceed under section 325 Cr.P.C. or under section 360 Cr.P.C. and in case he does not chose either of the said two options, he shall proceed to hear the accused on quantum of sentence and impose sentence according to law. In other words, provisions under section 325 Cr.P.C. would come into play after a finding regarding guilt has been recorded. It further becomes evident that the proceedings before passing any order for resorting to 325 Cr.P.C or for releasing him on probation u/s 360 Cr.P.C. or imposing sentence upon the accused are of the same nature and kind and different kinds of proceedings are not visualised. This is what the Magistrate has done in the present case wherein while aquitting one of the accused he has recorded a finding regarding guilt of the other accused.