New Delhi, October, 2023 – The Supreme Court, in a recent ruling, has set aside a 10-year imprisonment sentence imposed on a man who was found in possession of a substantial quantity of heroin. The decision was based on the ground that the authorities from the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) failed to demonstrate that the seized contraband was drawn in the presence of a Magistrate and that the inventory of the contraband was appropriately certified, as required by Section 52A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
Procedural Lapse Leads to Overturned Conviction
The case revolved around the appellant and three other individuals who were sentenced to ten years in prison after being found in possession of 20 kilograms of heroin. Their convictions were initially handed down by the Trial Court and subsequently upheld by the High Court.
However, the appellant contested the legality of the seizure and sampling of the alleged contraband, arguing that the procedures did not comply with the mandatory provisions of Section 52A of the NDPS Act. This section outlines the prescribed procedure for seizing and inventorying contraband, forwarding it to the appropriate authorities, and obtaining certification from the Magistrate concerned. The certified inventory or photographs of the seized substance, along with any list of the samples seized, can be accepted as primary evidence during the trial.
Critical Procedural Lapse
The Supreme Court observed that there was no dispute regarding the fact that the samples taken from the seized substance were drawn by the police in the presence of a gazetted officer, rather than in the presence of a Magistrate.
Furthermore, the Court emphasized that no evidence had been presented to confirm that the samples were drawn in the presence of the Magistrate, nor was there any documentation of the Magistrate’s certification of the list of samples drawn.
The Court held that simply drawing the samples in the presence of a gazetted officer did not satisfy the requirements of subsection (2) of Section 52A of the NDPS Act. As a result, the Court found that the failure of the authorities to present primary evidence rendered the conviction void and decided to set aside the appellant’s conviction.
In its final decision, the Supreme Court declared, “We are of the opinion that the failure of the concerned authorities to produce primary evidence vitiates the conviction. Therefore, the conviction of the appellant must be set aside.”
Significance of the Ruling
The Supreme Court’s ruling highlights the importance of strictly adhering to legal procedures and requirements, particularly in cases involving narcotics and controlled substances. Procedural lapses can have a significant impact on the validity of convictions. This case serves as a reminder of the need for law enforcement agencies to follow prescribed legal protocols when handling such matters.