A criminal trial in India is a legal process that is followed to determine the guilt or innocence of an accused person charged with a criminal offense. The criminal justice system in India is based on the principle that every person is innocent until proven guilty.
In this blog, Vishal Saini Advocate has explained Various stages of a criminal trial in India with illustrations.
|Substantive Criminal Law or Penal Law|
|Procedural Criminal Law or Adjective Criminal Law|
|1. Indian Penal Code, 1860||1. Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973|
2. Indian Evidence Act, 1872
The Indian Penal code and code of criminal procedure are also known as the “twin Sisters” of Criminal law.
The Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr. PC) is basically a procedural law for conducting a criminal trial in India. This procedural law is used in every procedure of criminal trial unless and until there are specific procedures made for a crime. The procedure includes details about the manner for collection of evidence, examination of witnesses, interrogation of accused, arrests, safeguards, and procedures to be adopted by Police and Courts, it also includes the bail, the process of a criminal trial, a method of conviction, and the rights of the accused of a fair trial by following principles of natural justice like nemo judex in sua causa (is a Latin phrase that means, literally, “no-one is a judge in his own cause.”) and Audi alteram partem ( is a Latin phrase meaning “listen to the other side”, or “let the other side be heard as well”. )
Indian Penal Code (IPC) is the primary penal law of India, which applies to all offenses. Indian Evidence Act (IEA) is a comprehensive, statute on the law of “evidence”, which can be used in the trial, the manner of production of the evidence in a trial, and the evidentiary value which can be attached to such evidence.
The types of Criminal Trials in India.
According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, a Criminal Trial is of three types. Depending upon the type of criminal trial the different stages of a criminal trial are discussed below.
- WARRANTS TRIAL:- 7 years or more ( PUNISHMENT)
- SUMMONS TRIAL:- 2 years ( MAXIMUM)
- SUMMARY TRIAL:- MAX 6 MONTHS
During Trial if case property is captured by the police that can be released during pendency of case to Know more you can read :-How to get your vehicle released on Superdari in the trial
Various stages of a Criminal trial In India
various stages of a criminal trial in above said all three cases are explained below:-
Warrant Cases Trial Stages in India
According to Section 2(x) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 a warrant case is one that relates to offenses punishable with death, imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term of seven years or more as told in the above-said point 1. The trial in warrant cases starts either by filing of an FIR in a police station or by filing a complaint before a magistrate. There is no other way of starting a warrant case trial in India. Later, if the magistrate is satisfied that the offense is punishable for more than two years, he sends the case to the sessions court for trial. The process of sending it to sessions court is called “committing it to sessions court”.
Some of the Most Important Features of a warrant case are:
- Charges must be mentioned in a warrant case about a particular offense or if there are more offenses then all should be mentioned
- The personal appearance of the accused is mandatory in warrant cases. ( regardless of the nature of the offense)
- A warrant case cannot be converted into a summons case in any way.
- The unique feature that makes it different from a summons case is in a warrant case accused can examine and cross-examine the witnesses more than once.
- The magistrate should ensure that the provisions of Section 207 comply with Section 207 of Cr. P.C. 1973, including the supply of copies such as police reports, FIR, statements recorded, or any other relevant document to the accused.
The stages of trial in warrant cases are given from Section 238 to Section 250 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. While section 250(8) talks about its procedure being applicable to summons cases as well as warrant cases.
Various Stages of Criminal Trial in a Warrant Case when instituted by the police report
- First Information Report: Under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, an FIR or First Information Report is registered. FIR puts the criminal case into motion. An FIR is information given by someone (aggrieved) to the police relating to the commitment of an offense. It can be made in writing. Moreover Nowadays police officers are also allowing complaints via email, and WhatsApp.Even police in some developed cities like Chandigarh and Delhi police are allowed to file complaints via Facebook page also.
- Investigation: The next step after the filing of the FIR is the investigation by the concerned investigating officer. A conclusion is made by the investigating officer by examining facts and circumstances in detail, the I.O also collects evidence, examines various persons, and takes their statements in writing and all the other steps necessary for completing the investigation, and then that conclusion is filed to the magistrate as a police report.
- Charges: If after considering the police report and other important documents or prima facie evidence that is available on record the accused is not discharged then the court frames charges under which he is to be trialed. In a warrant case, the charges should be framed in writing. As told in the features of warrant cases.
- Plea of guilty: Section 241 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 talks about the plea of guilty, after framing the charges the accused is given an opportunity to plead guilty, and the responsibility lies with the judge to ensure that the plea of guilt was voluntarily made. The judge may upon its discretion convict the accused. This basically depends from case to case.
- Prosecution evidence: After the charges are framed, if the accused didn’t plead guilty, then the court requires the prosecution to produce evidence to prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution is required to support its evidence with statements from its witnesses. This process is called “examination in chief”. The magistrate has the power to issue summons to any person as a witness or order him to produce any document regarding a particular case.
- Statement of the accused: Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code gives an opportunity for the accused to be heard and explain the facts and circumstances of the case. The statements of the accused are not recorded under oath and can be used against him in the trial.
- Defense evidence: An opportunity is given to the accused in a case where he is not being acquitted to produce so as to defend his case. The defense can produce both oral and documentary evidence. In India, since the burden of proof is on the prosecution the defense, in general, is not required to give any defense evidence.
- Judgment: The final decision of the court with reasons given in support of the acquittal or conviction of the accused is known as judgment. In case the accused is acquitted, the prosecution is given time to appeal against the order of the court. When the person is convicted, then both sides are invited to give arguments on the punishment which is to be awarded. This is usually done when the person is convicted of an offense whose punishment is life imprisonment or capital punishment.
Stages of Criminal Trial in a Warrant Case when Private Complaint institutes case
- On the filing of the complaint, the court will examine the complainant and its witnesses on the same day or any other day to decide whether an offense is made against the accused person or not. If the not made court may dismiss the complaint and discharge the accused.
- After examination of the complainant, the Magistrate may order an inquiry into the matter and submit a report for the same.
- After examination of the complaint and the investigation report submitted by investigating agency, the court may come to a conclusion whether the complaint is genuine or whether the prosecution has sufficient evidence against the accused or not. If the court does not find any sufficient material through which it can convict the accused, then the court will dismiss the complaint and record its reason in detail for dismissal.
- After the chief examination of the complaint and the inquiry report submitted by the police. if the court thinks that the prosecution has a genuine case and there are sufficient material and evidence with the prosecution to charge the accused then the Magistrate may issue a warrant or a summon depending on the facts and circumstances.
According to Section 2(w) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Those cases in which an offense is punishable with imprisonment of two years is a summon case. A summon case doesn’t require the method of preparing the evidence. Nevertheless, a summon case can be converted into a warrant case by the magistrate if after looking into the case he thinks that the case is not a summon case.
Important points about the summons case
- A summons case can be converted into a warrant case and a person can be treated in accordance with the procedure given in warrant cases.
- The person who is accused needs not be present personally. The counsel can also move applications for dispensing personal appearance.
- The person accused should be informed about the charges orally. No need for framing the charges in writing.
- The accused gets only one opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses.
The different stages of a criminal trial in a summon case are given from Section 251 to Section 259 of the Code of Criminal procedure.
- Pre-trial: In the pre-trial stage, the process such as filing of FIR and investigation is conducted. The pre-trial stage can be explained in brief as below:-
The trial begins when the Police submit their Final information report U/s 173 CrPC and pre-trial is the stage when final information ( Chargesheet/Challan) Is not submitted before the court.
The steps involved in the pre-trial stage
STEP 1- Information to the Police
a. Information on cognizable offence
If the information received by the police through the informant relates to any cognizable offense, the officer in charge of the police station records it under Section 154 CrPC. The informant can give the information in both oral and written form; if given orally, it should be reduced to writing and read over to the informant. The informant gets a copy of the recorded information free of cost.
This recorded piece of information received first-hand from the informant is called the First Information Report (FIR)
b. Information on non-cognizable offence
Upon receiving the information, the Magistrate may take cognizance of it under section 190 CrPC If he takes cognizance, he examines the informant upon oath. The examination’s substance is reduced to writing and signed by the informant and the Magistrate. After examining, if the Magistrate finds sufficient grounds to investigate the case, he orders the police to investigate under section 156 and Section 202 CrPC; if not, he dismisses it. Once the police receive the Magistrate’s order to investigate, they carry on with the case as if it were a cognizable one, although they cannot arrest without a warrant.
STEP 2- Investigation
Upon filing an FIR (in case of a cognizable offence) or receiving the Magistrate’s order (in case of an NC offence), the officer in charge of the police station starts the investigation. Under Section 2(h) CrPC, the police (not the Magistrate!), conduct the investigation to collect evidence. The police have unhampered power to investigate under section 157 CrPC any cognizable case, irrespective of any court’s order (Emperor v Nazir Ahmed).
a. Report to the Magistrate
Upon receiving information on a cognizable offense, the officer in charge of the police station sends a preliminary report to the empowered Magistrate through a superior officer appointed by the State Government.
b. Attendance of witnesses
When the police officer suspects the acquaintance of any person (within certain limits) with the case at hand, he gives a written order under Section 160 CrPC for that person to appear before him; this is to facilitate the police to collect the required evidence. And the so-called witness is duty-bound to oblige the order.
The order is a part of the investigation and doesn’t amount to harassment of the witness or violation of Article 21 ( i.e Right to life ) of the Constitution of India per se if reasonable grounds exist to believe that the witness knows something about the offense (Sube Singh v State of Haryana).
However, the following persons need not attend the police investigation at places other than their residence:
- Males under fifteen or above sixty-five years of age,
- Women, and
- Mentally or physically disabled persons.
c. Examination of witnesses
Usually, the police examine the witness orally and reduce the statements into writing. Every witness’ statement is recorded individually in first-person form. It can be audio-video recorded too.
The witness is legally bound to truly answer all the questions put forth to him during the examination, except the ones that may expose him to any criminal consequence.
d. Prohibition on signing the recorded statements
No statement made by the witness to the police, recorded in writing while investigating, is signed by him. Under Section 162(1) CrPC, such statements can be used by the accused or the prosecution to contradict the witness under Section 145 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 (Cross-examination as to previous statements in writing). Meaning, if the witness making such statements
e. Medical examination of rape victims
While investigating an alleged commission or attempt of rape, the victim (if consents) goes through a medical examination by a registered medical practitioner employed in a government hospital within 24 hours from the information’s reception. The medical examination enables the police to get crucial information on the offense, including the offender’s identity. The medical practitioner prepares a report of the examination and forwards it to the investigating officer.
f. Search by the police
The officer in charge of a police station can search any place within the limits of his station to find something necessary for investigating if:
- Reasonable grounds exist that it may be found in that place; and
- He opines that it is obtainable only without undue delay.
g. The arrest of the accused
While investigating an NC case, if an arrest is felt necessary, the court issues an arrest warrant under section 70 CrPC directing any police officer to arrest the accused.
However, while investigating a cognizable case, the police officer arrests without an arrest warrant under Section 41 CrPC, any person against whom:
- A reasonable complaint is filed,
- Credible information is received, or
- Reasonable suspicion rises that he committed a cognizable offense punishable with imprisonment up to seven years, fine, or both.
h. Release of accused if evidence insufficient
Within the twenty-four hours of arrest, the accused is released on executing a bond with/without sureties under Section 169 CrPC that he will appear before the Magistrate whenever required, if:
- the investigation is complete within 24 hours of arrest, and no firm evidence exists against the accused, and
- The officer opines that no reasonable ground exists to produce the accused before the Magistrate or prolong the detention.
The police record the release in a closure Report
i. Forward of accused to Magistrate if evidence sufficient
If the investigation is complete within 24 hours of the arrest and sufficient evidence exists against the accused, under section 170 CrPC the police will:
- Forward him to the empowered Magistrate, or
- If the offense is bailable, release him after taking security for his appearance before the Magistrate.
What if the investigation is not complete in twenty-four hours?
The police cannot detain anyone who is arrested without a warrant for more than 24 hours (Section 57 CrPC) ; such detention exceeding 24 hours amounts to illegal arrest and a violation of Article 22(2) Of the Indian constitution
STEP 3- Report on the investigation
After investigating, the subordinate officer involved in the investigation submits a report under section 168 CrPC to the officer in charge of the police station, who further forwards a Completion Report to the Magistrate under Section 173 CrPC The Completion Report is of two types- Closure Report and Chargesheet.
A closure report is the Completion Report forwarded by the police to the Magistrate when the accused is found innocent due to a lack of sufficient evidence and released on a bond under Section 169 CrPC. Upon its reception, the Magistrate either dismisses the case under Section 203 CrPC on the ground of insufficient evidence or takes its cognizance under Section 204 CrPC.
Contents of the Completion Report
- Parties’ names,
- Nature of the information,
- Witnesses’ names,
- Possibility of the offense,
- Accused’s name,
- Whether the accused is arrested,
- Whether he is released on his bond,
- Whether he is forwarded in custody under Section 170,
- Any records of statements and confessions, or relevant documents,
- Medical examination of any victim woman under Section 164A etc.
The informant is informed of the submission of the completion report to the Magistrate.
End of the Pre-Trial Stage
The Pre-Trial stage ends when the police submit the Completion Report to the Magistrate. Next, the Trial stage starts once the Magistrate takes cognizance of the case by issuing the process for proceedings under Section 204 CrPC.
Stages of Criminal Trial in a Summons Case
- Charges: In summons trials, charges are not framed in writing. The accused appears before the court or is brought before the court then the Magistrate would orally states the facts of the offense he is answerable and the trial begins when charges are being framed.
- Plea of guilty: The Magistrate after stating the facts of the offense will ask the accused if he pleads guilty or has any defense to support his case. If the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate records the statement in the words of the accused as far as possible and may convict him at his discretion.
- Plea of guilty and absence of the accused: In cases, where the accused wants to plead guilty without appearing in the court, the accused is supposed to send Rs.1000/- by post or through a messenger (lawyer) to the Magistrate. The absentee should also send a letter containing an acceptance of guilt and the amount of fine provided in the summons. The Magistrate can at his discretion convict the accused or the magistrate may accept the fine also.
- Prosecution and defense evidence: In the summons case, the procedure followed is very simple and elaborate procedures are eliminated. If the accused does not plead guilty, then the process of the trial starts. The prosecution and the defense are asked to present evidence in support of their cases. The Magistrate is also empowered to take the statement of the accused.
- Judgment: When the sentence is pronounced in a summons case, the parties need not argue about the amount of punishment given. The sentence is at the sole discretion of the judge. If the accused is acquitted, the prosecution has the right to appeal. This right to appeal is also extended to the accused.
Summary Trial Stages in India.
Cases that generally take only one or two hearings to decide the matter comes under this category. The summary trials are reserved for small offenses to reduce the burden on courts and to save time and money. Those cases in which an offense is punishable with imprisonment of not more than six months can be tried in a summary way. The point worth noting is that, if the case is being tried in a summary way, a person cannot be awarded a punishment of imprisonment for more than three months.
The trial procedure is provided from Section 260 to Section 265 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Summary Cases Stages in India
- The procedure followed in the summary trial is similar to the summons case.
- Imprisonment for up to three months can be passed.
- In the judgment of a summary trial, the judge should record the substance of the evidence and a brief statement of the finding of the court with reasons in detail.
In conclusion, a criminal trial in India involves several stages, starting with the registration of the case and ending with the judgment. The trial is the main stage during which both the prosecution and the defense present their case, and the court delivers its judgment based on the evidence presented.
1. What information do you need from me in order to get started?
-> I need all information from A TO Z about detailed facts and circumstances that happened related to a particular case
2. What are the different stages of a criminal trial in India?
A criminal case begins with FIR then after FIR An investigation by the Police • There is a stage of a collection of evidence; •Then its Interrogation/statement of accused; statement of witnesses; further if required the Scientific analysis/opinion if required Arrest of the accused, if deemed proper by the concerned investigation officer. Evidence by Prosecution, on whom generally the onus of proof lies.
3. What are the 5 stages of criminal procedure in India?
- Arrest of accused
- Preliminary hearing based on prima facie evidence.
- An investigation by orders of the court.
- A charge is made to the accused in criminal court.
- Trial by jury.
4. On average, how long does it take before a settlement/trial is reached?