Legal insanity as a defense against a murder charge was upheld by the Supreme Court.

In a recent judgment dated 24.08.2022, the High Court of Sikkim at Gangtok reversed the order of acquittal by the Trial Court dated 30.10.2018. The appellant-accused had been charged with an offense under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). This decision was based on the appellant’s mental state and the nature of the offense.

The prosecution’s case alleged that the appellant-accused had committed murder. During the trial, 17 witnesses were examined. Additionally, the appellant-accused had undergone a mental examination at STNM Hospital, Gangtok.

The Trial Court had acquitted the appellant-accused, citing Section 84 of the IPC, which deals with acts of persons of unsound mind. However, the High Court disagreed, leading to an appeal.

The appellant-accused argued that the judgment of acquittal could only be reversed if there was perversity in the Trial Court’s decision. They emphasized that the presumption of innocence strengthened the case of the accused and referred to the decision in the case of Abdul Mannan.

The appellant-accused contended that he was a person of unsound mind as per Section 84 of the IPC, which prevented him from knowing the nature of his acts. The State, on the other hand, argued that the High Court correctly concluded that Section 84 did not apply.

After considering the evidence and arguments, the main question before the Court was whether the appellant-accused’s case fell within the exception under Section 84 of IPC.

The evidence established that the appellant-accused had committed the murder. Witnesses testified to his abnormal behavior before, during, and after the incident. Medical evidence also indicated mental health issues.

Section 84 of IPC states that if a person, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of their acts, it is not an offense. The burden of proving this falls on the accused, and the court shall presume the absence of such circumstances unless proven otherwise.

The Court held that legal insanity must be proved, not medical insanity. The appellant-accused’s behavior and medical evidence raised reasonable doubt about his mental state during the crime.

The High Court’s decision to reverse the judgment of acquittal was based on reappreciation of evidence and was found to be erroneous. As a result, the Court set aside the High Court’s judgment and affirmed the judgment of acquittal by the Trial Court.

The appellant-accused was acquitted of the charge under Section 302 IPC and was to be set at liberty forthwith.

decided by the Supreme Court of India on Sept 14, 2023


Sanjiv Narang Adv. is an Advocate on Record in the Supreme Court of India. His qualifications include an LLB from University of Delhi and a Masters degree in Personnel Management from Panjab University,Chandigarh.In his more than 3 decades of experience, he has practiced law at the District, High Court and Supreme Court levels.He also has more than a decade of experience in the field of Management. He is the author of two books namely Laws for Women in India and Innovation, Why What and How.