The Kerala High Court recently issued a landmark judgment on the issue of culpable homicide caused by drunk driving. In the case of State of Kerala v. Sreeram Venkittaraman and Wafa Najim @ Wafa Firoz v. State of Kerala, the court held that in cases of drunken driving, there is no need for documentary evidence like medical reports to prove whether a person was drunk, in order to establish his guilt for the offense of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
The case pertained to the death of journalist KM Basheer, who was killed after a car driven by IAS officer Sriram Venkitaraman rammed into him. The police allegedly found Venkitaraman in an inebriated state after the accident. However, there was a significant delay in collecting his blood sample for testing the alcohol level as Venkitaraman had managed to check himself out of the government hospital where the police had taken him.
In October 2022, the Additional District and Sessions Judge discharged Venkitaraman and Firoz of the offenses under Section 304, 201 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act (MV Act), and Section 3(1)(2) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. However, the session court framed charges against Venkitaraman under Sections 279 (rash driving) and 304(A) (causing death by negligence) of the IPC and Section 184 (drunk driving) Of MV Act and Firoz of sections 188 (abetment) and 184 of the IPC.
The High Court set aside the part of the order of the Sessions Court discharging Venkitaraman of culpable homicide charge taking note of the fact, that he didn’t do the medical test on time, which cannot be ignored. The court observed that rash or negligent driving on a public road with the knowledge of the dangerous character of his act, especially when he drives in an inebriated state, can fall in the category of culpable homicide, not amounting to murder, if the injured died as a result of the injuries.
Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas clarified that even in the absence of medical reports, courts can conclude that an accused person was drunk based on the circumstances of the case and the statement of the witnesses, thereby making him liable for culpable homicide under Section 304 of the IPC. “For the purpose of bringing home the guilt of an accused, under section 304 IPC, based upon drunken driving and the resulting knowledge of the consequences, it is not essential, in every case, that there should be documentary evidence to prove the fact of drunkenness,” the High Court said.
The Court discharged Venkitaraman from sections 184 and 185 of the MV Act as medical test was not conducted and there was no evidence to reveal the existence of alcohol content in the blood. The Court also discharged him from the offense under section 3(2) of the PDPP Act as the same requires mischief in respect of public property as its main ingredient. The revision petition filed by Firoz was allowed and she was discharged for the offense under section 188 of the MV Act on abetment since none of the materials revealed that she permitted Venkitaraman to drive the car.
This judgment by the Kerala High Court is a significant step towards curbing the menace of drunk driving, which is one of the major causes of road accidents in the country. The judgment highlights the fact that the law takes a serious view of drunken driving and that those who indulge in such acts will be dealt with severely.
In conclusion, the Kerala High Court’s recent ruling has made it clear that in cases of drunken driving, it is not necessary to have documentary evidence to prove intoxication. The ruling serves as a reminder to all motorists to not drink and drive, as it can result in severe legal consequences, including culpable homicide charges.
The State Government was represented by Public Prosecutor SU Nazar.
Sreeram Venkittaraman was represented by advocates S Rajeev S, V Vinay, MS Aneer, Sarath KP, and Prerith Philip Joseph.
Wafa Firoz was represented by advocates G Ranju Mohan, S Suresh, M Shanti and Arya S.State_of_Kerala_v_Sreeram_Venkittaraman___Wafa_Najim___Wafa_Firoz_v_State_of_Kerala_-1