The Kerala High Court has issued a set of guidelines to be followed by courts in cases where an accused has pleaded guilty for offences charged against him while setting aside the conviction and sentence of the petitioner and finding fault with the trial court.
Justice V.G. Arun was hearing the criminal revision petition filed by Raseen Babu KM, represented by Advocate D. Anil Kumar, against the order of the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court -1, convicting him u/s 35 of Kerala Prevention of Disturbances of Public Meetings Act for obstructing the procession for a school admission festival and assaulting certain volunteers involved.
The judgments of the trial court were challenged mainly on the ground that the procedure adopted by the trial court in finding the accused to have pleaded guilty was patently illegal.
D. Anilkumar, learned Counsel for the petitioner, had contended that the conviction of an accused based on his plea of guilty results in that person being convicted and punished without trial, and hence the Magistrates are bound to ensure that the plea is voluntary, clear and unambiguous and is put forth after understanding the implications of such admission.
After hearing both sides, Justice Arun mandated the compliance of the following requirements before acting upon the pleading of guilt by an accused;
(i) The Magistrate should frame the charge, specifying the offences alleged against the accused;
(ii) The charge should be read over and explained to the accused;
(iii)The accused should be asked whether he pleads guilty of the offence/s with which he is charged; (IV) The accused should plead guilty after understanding the seriousness of the allegations and the implications of pleading guilty. The plea should be voluntary and expressed in clear and unambiguous terms.
(v) The Magistrate should record the accused plea of guilty in the words of the accused, to the extent possible.
(vi) The Magistrate, after considering all relevant factors should exercise his discretion and decide whether to accept the plea of guilty or not
(vii) If the plea is accepted, the accused can be convicted and suitable punishment imposed.
“A monosyllabic ‘yes’ elicited as an answer to the pointed question as to whether the petitioner had committed the offences mentioned in the charge, will not satisfy the aforementioned requirements.”
The court also answered the question of whether an accused, who had pleaded not guilty at the stage of framing charge, could be permitted to plead guilty at a later stage which was raised by relying upon Santosh v State of Kerala (2003(2) Crimes 141) in which a learned Single Judge has opined that the plea of guilt can be advanced by an accused at any stage of the trial after framing charge.
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The court then allowed the revision petition by setting aside conviction and sentence imposed on the petitioner. It concluded: “As far as the instant case is concerned, the petitioner having pleaded not guilty at the first instance, recording of the monosyllabic answer ‘yes’ in the questionnaire prepared at the stage of framing charge, cannot, under any circumstance, be termed as pleading of guilt by the petitioner, based on which the court could have convicted him. As such, the judgments convicting the petitioner are liable to be set aside.”
Read the Order here;
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