Sewa Singh Vs. State of Punjab 
INSC 168 (27 April 1962)
Murder-Nature of gunshot wound-Proximity of
shot Medical evidence-Consideration-Witnesses-Evidence-value ofAssessmentDoctor's
evidence Cross-examination-No challenge Indian Penal Code, 1860 (46 of 1860),
The appellant was tried and convicted for
murder and sentenced to death. Two eye witnesses testified that he shot and
killed the deceased from a shop while the later was passing on a motor cycle.
The doctor who conducted the postmortem gave evidence that the shot might have
been fired from a distance of three or four feet. This evidence was not
challenged in cross-examination. On appeal to the High Court the conviction and
sentence were confirmed. The appeal came up before the Supreme Court by way or
The main contention on behalf of the
appellant was that the characteristic of the wound which would have shown that
the deceased was shot from a distance of few inches and not from the distance
stated by the witnesses were not taken into consideration by the High Court. It
was contended that if the High Court had considered these factors the
credibility of the witnesses would have become doubtful.
Held, that the nature and features of the fatal
wound should ordinarily be taken into consideration in assessing the 546 value
of the evidence of the eye witnesses. On consideration of all the features of
the wound as described by the doctor the conclusion is reached that the
doctor's opinion, which was not challenged in cross-examination, that the shot
was fired from a distance of three to four feet is correct.
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Criminal
Appeal No. 60 of 1962.
Appeal by special Leave from the judgment and
order dated October 25, 1961, of the Punjab High Court in Criminal Appeal No.
890 of 1961 of Murder Reference No. 74 of 1961.
Jai Gopal Sethi, C. L. Sareen and R. L.
Kohli, for appellant.
Gopal Singh, D. Gupta, P. D. Menon, for
1962. April 27. The Judgment of the Court was
delivered by DAS GUPTA, J.The Appellant was convicted by the Sessions Judge,
Patiala, of an offence under s.302 of the Indian Penal Code for the murder of
Gurdev Singh and sentenced to death. The Punjab High Court dismissed his appeal
and confined the sentence of death. The present appeal is on the strength of
special granted by this Court.
The prosecution case is that at about 2.30
p.m. on November 18, 1960 when Gurdev Singh was passing the tea-stall of Cbaran
Singh, not far from the courts at Barnala on a motor cycle, the appellant Sewa
Singh, who was at that time in that shop with a double barrel gun stood up and
fired a shot at him. Gurdev Singh was hit on the right side of his chest and
died instantaneously. The appellant and one Gogar Singh, who was with him, ran
The accused pleaded not guilty. It was not
disputed that Gurdev Singh had died of a gunshot 547 injury at the time and
place as alleged. It was satrentiously contended, however, that he was not the
According to the prosecution this occurrence
was witnessed by Charan Singh, the owner of the shop and Mukhtiar Singh, a
Student, and Bakhtawar Singh, the two persons who were having tea in the shop.
At the trial Charan Singh denied any
knowledge as to who had fired the shot and was declared hostile by the
The other two witnesses gave evidence that
they saw the present appellant, who was known to them from before, firing the
shot from a double barrel gun. Their evidence was believed by the Trial Judge
and also by the High Court.
In support of the appeal it is contended by
Mr. Sethi that we should look at the evidence ourselves as the High Court does
not appear to have taken into consideration, in appreciating the evidence, the
Characteristics of the injuries caused by the shot. He has drawn our attention
to a decision of this Court in Zora Singh v. The State of Punjab (Criminal
Appeal No. 81 of 1957: Judgment delivered on 10.5-1957).
According to the learned Counsel these
features of the injury as they appear from the Doctor's evidence clearly show
that when the gun was fired it was held in close contact with the body of the
victim or within two or three inches of it. This, argues the learned Counsel,
shows that the witnesses who have claimed to have been the occurrence did not
actually see the occurrence as they give a totally different version as regards
the distance of the gun from the body of the victim. It has to be mentioned
that the judgment of the High Court contains no discussion on this point and it
does not appear that the attention of the learned Judges was 548 drawn to the
features of the injury on which we are now asked to hold that the shot which
killed Gurudev Singh was fired from a very close range, not exceeding a few
Even so, we have thought it proper to hear
the Counsel on this question, ,.is in our view these features ought ordinarily
to be taken into consideration in assessing the value of the evidence of the
eye-witnesses. The doctor's evidence shows: (1) that the wound caused was a
roundish, wound 1-1/2"x 1-1/4" communicating with the right chest
cavity; (2) that the wound was plugged with a cork wadding and card board disc
of 12 bore cartridge; (3) that the right fourth and fifth ribs were blown off
under the wound and also the right lung was punctured over an area 2-1/2"x
2" about in its middle lobe about its interior margin in the middle which was
blown off, (4) that the woollen coat, which was on the body of the deceased,
was bloodstained with a corresponding rent blackened charred; the shirt was
also blood stained with a corresponding rent blackened. The doctor gave the
opinion that the distance from which the shot was fired might be three to four
feet. There was some cross-examination of the doctor in the Committing Court
but the correctness of this opinion was not challenged. The doctor did not
appear to give evidence before the Sessions Court. His deposition as recorded
by the Committing Court was treated as evidence in the Sessions Court under the
provisions of s.509 of the Code of Criminal Procedure..
Turning first to the size of the wound it
appears to us that far from supporting the theory of death having been caused
by a contact shot it indicates that the shot was fired from about a yard away.
Speaking of ordinary shot-guns, Sir Sidney Smith in his Forensic Medicine, 9th
Edition; page 182 says : "At about a yard the charge of shot will enter as
one mass,. making a whole with irregular 549 edges about an inch in
diameter." Major Sir Gerald Burrard in his Identification of firearms and Forensic
Ballistics says at P.73 : "It may be assumed for all practical purposes
that if the diameter of the wound is an inch, or less, than the distance of the
shot was 18 inches or under, irrespective of the gauge of the shotgun or the
degree of choke. Up to 2 feet there is very little difference in the spread
between guns of various and different obokes, the hole at this distance being
slightly over an inch in diameter. At 3 feet the hole is nearly 1-1/2 inches in
diameter, and the difference between the two extremes of boring, true cylinder
and full choke, begins to be evident.' In Lyon's Medical Jurisprudence, 10th
Edition, we find stated at p. 279 thus:"At a distance of 3 feet the shot
mass begins to spread, the wound is an inch or slightly more in diameter."
In Taylor's Principles and practice of Medical Jurisprudence, 11th Edition,
'the matter is described thus at page 334:-In the case of shot-guns the
distance from which the weapon was fired may be deduce d from the amount of
scattering of the charge.
Up to about a yard the whole of the charge
enters in a mass, producing a round hole about the size of the bore of the
In view of these authorities, it is
reasonable to hold even without knowing whether the gun had an unchoked or a
choked barrel that a roundish wound of 1-1 /2" x 1-1/4" would be
caused if the gun is fired at a distance of about a yard.
We are unable to agree that the burning of
the clothes as described by the doctor is any indication that the shot was
fired from within a few inches. Mr. Sethi has drawn our attention to the
statement made in the several text books that whet the gun is fired from a
distance of only a few inched; the wound would be surrounded by a zone of black
ening and burning. in the Present case no mark 550 of blackening or burning
were noticed by the doctor on the skin round the wound or in the depths of the
wound; but the rent in the woollen coat was found blackened and charged and the
rent in the shirt blackened.
On this question it is important to mention
the opinion as given in the Taylor's Principle and Practice of Medical
Jurisprudence, 10th Edition at p. 441 thus:"The amount or degree to which
the clothes and body of a person may be burnt by the near discharge of firearms
has given rise to a medico-legal inquiry. The facts in any given case can be
determined only by experiments with the actual weapon used, and loaded as
nearly as possible in the same manner as it was when used for the purpose which
are being investigated. It is impossible to state rules as to the precise
distance from which it is possible to produce marks of burning, for this depends
on the quantity and nature of the powder, the method of charging, and the
nature of the weapon. It is unusual, however, to get marks of burning beyond a
yard or a yard and a half with a shot-gun, or at more than half a yard with a
revolver." According to this view therefore marks of burning may be found
in the clothes or body of a person if the shot was fired at a distance of a
yard or a yard and a half with a shot-gun. Even though this opinion is not
reiterated in Taylor's 11th Edition, it seems clear, in view of this opinion
that the presence of the burning marks in the clothes cannot from a reasonable
basis for holding that the gun was fired in this case from the close range of a
few inches only.
It is necessary next to consider the fact
that the cork was found lodged in the body. Glaister 551 in Medical
Jurisprudence and Texicology, 9th Edition at p. 265 says, while speaking of a
shot fired close to the body surface up to a few inches that "the wad may
be forced in the wound." It appeas to be clear that in a contact wound the
wad is likely to enter the body. But the authorities are not so clear to the
maximum distance at which the wad may enter the body. The nearest statement
appears to be given by Sir Sidney Smith in his Forensic Medicine, 9th Edition
at p. 182 thus :-"'the wads enter with the projectile in near
discharges." Reading this statement in the light of the discussion in the
previous paragraphs, it appears to us that a discharge up to yard has been
considered by the learned author as a near discharge. The fact that the wad was
lodged in the wound appears therefore to be quite consistent with the shot
having been fired from about a yard.
It remains to consider what the doctors has
described as the "blowing off" of the ribs and a part of the right
This description, if correctly given,
indicates the entry of gas into the wound and that, it is true, ordinarily
takes place only if the shot is fired within a few inches of the body, As we
have already noticed however, the dimension of the wound itself is a clear
indication that shot was fired at a distance of about a yard. There is thus
some apparent inconsistency between what is indicated by the size of the wound
and what the doctors has described as "the blowing off" of the ribs
and a par of the right lung. As there is less likelihood of any mistake being
made in the measurement of the wound than about the doctor's view about the
"blowing off" of the ribs., we are of opinion that what the doctor
has described as "blowing off" is not a good reason for thinking that
the shot was fired only a few inches off from the body.
552 On a consideration of all the features of
the wound as described by the doctors together, we have come to the conclusion
that the doctor's opinion as given in his examination-in-chief, which was not
challenged in cross examination before the Committing Magistrate, that the shot
may have been fired about three to four feet away should be accepted as
correct. We find no reason therefore interfere with the assessment of evidence
as made by the High Court and also with the order, of conviction and sentence
passed by it.
The appeal is accordingly dismissed.