What happens when a murder is committed? The accused is arrested and brought in for questioning by the police. The police then takes the accused to the Court where the prosecution states all the crimes that are alleged on the accused. The police, all this while is helping the prosecution, after a thorough investigation against the accused tries to prove to the court that murder is committed by the accused. If after much deliberation and the hearing, if the court thinks that trial should be commenced against the accused, the court proceeds to frame the charges. The court considers the investigation done by the police to be accurate and reliable. The framing of charge is later called a charge-sheet, that contains all the crimes that the police and prosecution think the accused has committed. These charges form the basis of the whole trial. It includes the sections for the offense and thus, can either put the accused in jail or help acquit him. These charges if framed incorrectly can put an innocent man behind bars and can put a guilty man in the outside world again. Let us discuss the purpose of framing of charge.
A charge is defined under Section 2(b) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 as “charge includes any head of a charge when the charge contains more heads than one.”This section is not very self-explanatory; thus, it needs various judgments to understand the various complexities in this single sentence. In the case of V.C. Shukla v. State stated that the reason why framing a charge is so important is to make the accused understand the crimes alleged against him. A charge should tell the accused why the trial has been initiated against him.
A charge is the basis of a criminal trial and thus is very important. In this article, we will be touching upon the questions such as: What is the legal provision regarding charge and framing of charge? Where can charges be framed? What are the process and the conviction of the charge and how trial commences after framing of charges? Lastly and most importantly, why the framing of charges is most important.
Legal provisions regarding Charge
The legal provisions regarding Charge are given under Chapter XVII of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 containing section 211-217, that elaborate on the forms of charge and Section 218-224 that explains the joinder of charges. The charge is also explained in sections 227, 228, 239, 240, and 464.
Section 211 of the Criminal Procedure Code deals with the contents of the charge against the accused. It states that the charge should contain information about the offense in an easy to understand manner and should be explained to the accused. Section 212 deals with the time and place of the offense committed. These two sections state how the offense was committed and how the trial should go about it.
But this rule is only extended till a case emerges of either criminal breach of trust or dishonest misappropriation of money, the charge can specify only a gross amount of money or describe the movable property rather than giving an exact sum and valuationof the movable property. Also, the rule is relaxed for the dates to be mentioned in these cases. This rule was further specified in the case of Shiam Sunder v. Emperor where the court stated that “This rule is intended to cover cases of persons who showed a deficiency in the accounts with which they were entrusted but who could not be shown to have misappropriated this or that specific sum.”
Section 213 details that if the charge under section 211 and 212 is not detailed enough and is not able to state the exact manner in which a crime is committed, this section enables the court to describe the manner.
Section 214 details the words used in a charge should be used in such a manner that they describe the offense committed and should also connect it to the offense committed and with which the accused is charged with.
Section 215, 464, and 465 are read together as they deal with the problem that no error or omission will be found material in a trial unless it has failed justice. This view was elaborated in the case of Tulsi Ram & Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh the court stated that as there was no complaint regarding the understanding of the charge by the accused at any point in time before the commencement of the trial. Thus, the grievance regarding any error in the framing of charges was not accepted and it was established that this did not fail justice.
Section 216 deals with the addition of charges or removal of charges. It also states that the court has to see that these altercations in the charge should not result in prejudice to the accused and should cause him any trouble in the forthcoming trial. These changes in charge cannot be done after the accused is discharged from all the charges and it is also stated that the court cannot change the charges that might cause any prejudice to the accused. Section 217 deals with the recalling of accused or other witnesses to attest and provide evidence to the altered charges. The accused is re-summoned to understand the changes in the charge.
Section 218-222 deals with the joinder of charges. This means that the charges against one accused that might result in multiple cases can be joined together to remove the multiplicity of cases and reduce the burden of the courts. Section 218 states that for every different charge there must be a different charge. It is stated in the case of Chunnoo v. State that a court can order a separate trial even though the case needs to have a joint trial. For this there are exceptions given and understood such as, the accused may not want a joint trial and the court is satisfied that this joint trial may be prejudicial to the accused, the trial can be separated.
Section 219 states that if the accused has committed the three same kinds of offenses in a year or 12 months, the accused can be tried for 3 different offenses in one trial. But no one trial should have more than three offenses to try for. This view was given in the case of Manoharan vs Director General of Police.
In Section 220 it is stated that the offenses did in the course of the same transaction or is a series of acts combined to make one single offense, it can be tried in one single trial. If the offenses mentioned above can be categorized into two or more definitions of law, they can be tried at a single trial. Also, if the offense is the criminal breach of trust or misappropriation of property, the trials are to be the same and can be tried as one.
Section 221 deals with the situation when it is doubtful what particular offense has been committed. It means that when severaloffenses are committed and the nature of such offenses is difficult to pinpoint, for the time being, the nature id found out, they canbe tried at the same time. if the case arises that the charge has been framed for one offense but the accused has committed another offense altogether, then he may be convicted of the offense whose evidence has been found.
Section 222 deals with the situation where an accused can be convicted of an offense with which he was not charged with, namely, a minor offense that resulted from the reduction of the offense originally charged with, when the evidence was provided with; or an attempt was committed of the offense the accused was charged with. For example,an attempt to murder.
Section 223 deals with the persons who can be charged jointly, namely, people accused of committing the same offense; the offense of abetment; different offenses committed in the course of the same transaction; committing an offense of extortion, cheating,etc. If the persons accused under different offenses formulating one transaction and the desire to have the same trial, they can write to the Magistrate or Court of Sessions, and if the court is satisfied, they may be added to the same trial. In the case of Ranchod Lal v. State of Madhya Pradesh, it was stated that the power to either join a charge or not remains with the court and it has the utmost discretion over the matter.
Section 224 deals with the situation when the accused is convicted of more than one offense from a plethora of offenses, the prosecution with due permission of the court can withdraw the rest of the charge. When these charges are withdrawn, they will be considered as acquittal and cannot be re-introduced except when there is a court order for the same.
Section 226 enumerates a situation when the prosecution is required to present shreds of evidence to prove the guilt of the accused so that the court can decide whether there is prima facie against him or not. In the case of Satish Mehra v. Delhi Administration and Another,it was observed that the chance to prove his innocence before the court by an accused is necessary as this eliminates the possibility of a trial that proves an innocent man guilty. This also allows the court to see the conscience of the person when asked if he is guilty or not. This determines the road the court will likely take to undergo a guilty person trial when he will not admit it. the case also states that in this section, the judge has to decide that after listening to the prosecution side as well as the accused’s side, should he record the case and the documents produced by the prosecution
Section 227 deals with the discharge of the accused when the charges are being framed and it is found by the court that there is no sufficient evidence against the accused. This section is added to reduce the chances of holding an innocent for a crime he did not commit. It also gives him a chance to prove his innocence. This view was given in the case of Willie Slanley v. State of Madhya Pradeshand State of Maharashtra v. Salman Khan.
Section 240 deals with the framing of charge against the accused. After the evidence has been proved and the court is convinced that the accused is guilty, the charges shall be framed against him and should be read out to him in front of witnesses. He is then asked whether he is guilty or not. The evidence should not be examined in such a manner to prove his guilty conscience but only to see whether there is aprima facie case can be made against the accused or not. The material provided by the prosecution should be sufficient to prove a prima facie case.
Purpose of framing of charge
Now that we have seen to all the legal provisions present for framing of charges, it is necessary to understand why do we need to frame charges against an accused in a trial. Why is it necessary to give one last chance to the accused to leave his guilty conscience behind and move forward.
The first and the foremost reason to frame charges is to give a clear and proper understanding to the accused of all the offenses he is being tried for. It can be multiple offenses or just one heinous one. This lets the accused know the amount of punishment and possibly jail time he might be getting. By doing this we are subjecting the accused to a reasonable time frame to understand the gravity of what he had done and what he will be subjected to in the future. This view was touched upon in the case of State of Maharashtra v. SomNathThapa where it was written that “before adverting to what was stated in Antulay’s case, let the view expressed in State of Karnataka vs. L. Muniswamy), 1977 (3) SCR 113 be noted. Therein, Chandrachud, J. (as he then was) speaking for a three-Judge Bench stated on page 119 that at the stage of framing charge the Court has to apply its mind to the question whether or not there is any ground for presuming the commission of the offense by the accused. As framing of charge affects a person’s liberty substantially, the need for proper consideration of material warranting such order was emphasized.”
In another case, in the ruling of a four- Judge Benchof the Hon’ble Supreme Court in V.C. Shukla v. State through CBI, the same view was given by Justice Desai “the purpose of framing a charge is to give intimation to the accused of clear, unambiguous and precise notice of the nature of accusation that the accused is called upon to meet in the course of a trial”.
The second reason to frame charges is that once the charges are informed to the accused he cannot, later on, refuse to accept those once the trial commences. The trial is based on proving guilt on each of the charges framed against the man. They are dealt one by one and the trial commences properly. If the charges are not stated to him loud and clear or there is some deficiency in the accused understanding of the charges, he might deflect the whole trial and the case built against him by the prosecution goes into the water.
As it has been established above that charges are made on the prima facie view opted by the Court after assessing the documents or evidence provided by the prosecution to frame the case against the accused. As it has also been seen that a mere defect in the framing of charges or any kind of omission in the same, cannot be a chance for the accused to take the defense of prejudice in any stage of the trial.
Framing of charge also gives ample opportunity to the accused to defend himself in front of the court even if the evidence is pointing towards the opposite view. Not only that the framing of charges on such a basic level of the trial results in understanding the case after many years have passed. As all of us know that the Indian justice system though slow gets the desired results, but due to the slow-paced trials, all of them don’t get the same judge for the whole of it, the judges change throughout the trial and the new ones need to get an idea about what the trial is all about.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the framing of charges is the most important stage of trial as it sets the grounds for the conviction of an accused.
 AIR 1932 Oudh 145,147
AIR 1953 AH 448 (C)
 1965 AIR 1248
 (1996) 9 SCC 766
 (1996) 4 SCC 659
 1980 Supplementary SCC 92 at page 150 para 110 of the report