Human hand mannual Strangulation (throttling), Suicide by hanging and ligature mark explained by SC

1st Case

AIR 2003 SC 3975 : (2003) 3 SCR 1190 : (2003) 6 SCC 380 : JT 2003 (4) SC 478 : (2003) 4 SCALE 531 : (2003) CriLJ SC 3070


Thaman Kumar Appellant
State of Union Territory of Chandigarh Respondent

Penal Code, 1860—Section 300—Murder—Death by strangulation—Size of ligature mark on neck of deceased—Determination—Accused charged with strangulating deceased with a piece of cloth by converting it into a rope—Testimony of eye-witnesses supported by medical evidence—Width of ligature mark depends upon type of cloth, how tightly and strongly it was rolled over and was converted into a rope and how soon it was removed—Direct evidence regarding strangulation, reliable—Same cannot be rejected on hypothetical medical evidence—Accused rightly convicted.

The post-mortem on the body of the deceased Bhanwar Singh was conducted jointly by Dr. A. S. Gill, Senior Medical Officer and PW. 2 Dr. G. Dewan, Medical Officer, General Hospital, Sector 16. The following ante-mortem injury was found on the body of the deceased:

“ligature mark brown coloured encircling whole of neck measuring 39 cms, all round the neck, ½ cms. on the sides and back and 2 cms. in the front of the neck anteriorly placed on the thyroid cartilage horizontally, margins were irregular, echymosed and base of ligature was dry and parchment like and membranous. On cut Section there were multiple echymotic spots on subcutaneous tissue and muscles. Thyroid cartilages was broken cricoid cartilage was also broken.

Larynx and tracheae – Mucosa of larynx and treachae were conjested and showed multiple petichial spots. Both right and left lungs were conjected. Stomach was empty and healthy.”

9- In the opinion of the Doctors, death was caused due to asphyxia caused by strangulation. The post-mortem report has been proved by PW.2 Dr. G. Dewan.

The post-mortem report of deceased Bhanwar Singh shows that there was a ligature mark encircling whole of neck measuring 39 cms. all around the neck. The doctors who conducted the post-mortem examination clearly opined that the death occurred due to asphyxia caused by strangulation.

In Modi’s Medical Jurisprudence (Twenty-Second Edition) in the Chapter “Deaths From Asphyxia” while dealing with the topic of “Post-mortem Appearance” especially regarding “ligature mark”, the learned author has stated as under on page 263 :

“ligature mark is a well-defined and slightly depressed mark corresponding roughly to the breadth of the ligature, usually situated low down in the neck below the thyroid cartilage, and encircling the neck horizontally and completely. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The pattern of the ligature may also be seen. Very often, there are abrasions and ecchymoses in the skin adjacent to the marks, In some cases, the mark in the neck may not be present at all, or may be very slight, if the ligature used is soft and yielding like a stocking or scarf, and if it is removed soon after death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .”

15. In the present case, the cotton cloth used for strangulating was removed immediately as the witnesses reached the spot and caught hold of the assailants. In such circumstances the width of the ligature mark could be much smaller and need not tally with the diameter of the rope.

17. The width of the ligature mark would very much depend upon the type of the cloth, how tightly and strongly it was rolled over and was converted into a rope and how soon it was removed. In Punjab Singh vs. State of Haryana, (1984) Suppl. SCC 233 it was held that if direct evidence is satisfactory and reliable, the same cannot be rejected on hypothetical medical evidence. Again in Anil Rai vs. State of Bihar, (2001) 7 SCC 318 it was held that if medical evidence when properly read shows two alternative possibilities but not any inconsistency, the one consistent with the reliable and satisfactory statements of the eye-witnesses has to be accepted. We are in respectful agreement with the view taken in the above cases. We are, therefore, clearly of the opinion that in the case in hand there is no inconsistency between the testimony of the eye-witnesses and the medical evidence and the case of the prosecution does not suffer from any infirmity on that account.


2nd case

PW-1 in his examination-in-chief as also the post-mortem certificate did notice some transversely placed ligature marks on the front side of the neck at the level of thyroid cartilage about 3/4 inch wide. It is the presence of this ligature mark which has made the High Court accept the prosecution case that the death was partly due to strangulation. On a perusal of the evidence of the Doctor in detail, it is seen that when the said doctor was questioned by the Court in regard to the ligature marks found by him and the effect thereof on the cause of death, this is what the doctor said : “First there must have been partial strangulation and thereafter she might have been burnt or it may be possible that after the start of burn she might have been strangulated. After burns she might have survived for about an hour and during that period she might have been strangulated.” A bare perusal of this evidence/statement clearly shows that the doctor was not sure what exactly was the effect of the so-called ligature marks that were found on the body of the deceased. His evidence is rather uncertain in terms since that evidence postulates more than one possible circumstance. It also indicates that the deceased could have been conscious for nearly an hour after she was burnt and also contemplates deceased being strangulated as she was being burnt. If we analyse these possibilities, it will be extremely difficult to accept the prosecution case that there was strangulation by the appellant for the reason that if the strangulation had taken place during the process of burning then the probabilities are that the accused also would have some signs of burns on his hands, if not the burn injuries itself. But that was not the prosecution case. It is also evident from the said doctor’s evidence that there was a possibility that the deceased might have survived for an hour after she was strangulated but the other evidence adduced by the prosecution clearly goes to show that even though there were neighbours in the proximity, nobody ever heard any shrieks from the deceased during her alleged strangulation or burning. Therefore, in our opinion, the evidence of the doctor does not in any manner support the prosecution case to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the appellant had caused the strangulation of the deceased.

AIR 2002 SC 758 : (2002) 2 SCC 502 : JT 2002 (1) SC 506 : (2002) 1 SCALE 461 : (2002) CriLJ SC 1018

3rd case

The viscera of the deceased had been sent for chemical examination and pathological report. According to the Chemical Examiner’s report Ex. PE, stomach, small and large intestines, liver, spleen, kidney and lungs had aluminium phosphide poison in them. The first post-mortem report given by Dr. Janak Raj Singhla PW 2 had disclosed that the cause of death was asphyxia as a result of “throttling”. In his evidence, however, it was admitted that there was no mark of ligature or any other external injury or mark present on the neck or any other part of the body. In the second post-mortem examination conducted by the Board under Dr. S. C. Aggarwal, PW 3 it was also noticed that there was no mark or external injury present on the dead body and in the opinion of the board, the cause of death was given to be asphyxia as a result of aluminium phosphide poisoning and strangulation. The prosecution led no evidence to establish that aluminium phosphide poison, which it is conceded before us, can lead to fatal consequences, had ever been procured by the respondent or was in his possession or was even administered by him, even if it may be presumed that he had an opportunity to administer the same, had he been in possession of it. The prosecution apparently gave up its case of death by poison and did not pursue it for reasons best known to it. It instead rested its case on death being caused by asphyxia due to strangulation. The absence of any external injury or marks of ligature creates a doubt about the correctness of the theory of death by strangulation. Some of the symptoms noticed by the doctors are common both if death is caused due to asphyxia caused by poisoning as well as asphyxia caused due to strangulation. There is, thus, a considerable doubt about the cause of death of the deceased.
AIR 2001 SCW 2460 : (2001) CriLJ SC 3298 : JT 2001 (4) SC 114 : (2002) 9 SCC 658

4th case

Multiple abrasions were found on the deceased which were not self-inflicted. That means, before strangulation, there should have been severe resistance by the deceased and in that process she would have received these injuries. But, nothing is mentioned about the fight by PWs 2 and 16. In fact, the deceased herself would have cried aloud and it could have been easily heard by PWs 3 and 4 who were living in the adjacent room. PWs 3 and 4’s evidence reveals that they could hear the voice and cries of children at a later point of time. If there was a fight and when the fight was going on, at least PW 16, who was aged 10 years would not have kept quiet. He would have raised hue and cry or run out of the house for help.

AIR 2004 SC 4961 : (2004) 8 SCALE 826 : (2004) CriLJ SC 4656

5th Case

When PW-1 and PW-2 went near the body they found bleeding from the mouth and nostril of the deceased, therefore they took the deceased across the river Pagliganj to Balurghat Hospital, where PW-15 Dr. Nath examined the deceased and declared her as brought dead. He also opined that the death was caused by throttling. On the basis of the information, received from the Dr. PW-15, the police of the Balurghat Police Station registered a case under Section 302, IPC and started the investigation. The body was sent for post mortem examination, which was conducted by Dr. D. Shah PW-14 on 17-8-1986. He opined that cause of death of the deceased was due to manual strangulation and was homicidal in nature. During the post mortem, he noticed the bruise mark on the neck and both on right and left side of the wind pipe. On dissection, he found the hyoid bone fractured. After completion of the investigation, the police filed charge-sheet against the above-mentioned four accused persons.
AIR 2003 SC 1108 : (2003) 2 SCC 566 : JT 2003 (1) SC 72 : (2003) 1 SCALE 62 : (2003) CriLJ SC 1274

6th Case

P.W. 11 the Demonstrator in Forensic Medicine and toxicology of the Medical College Burla, held post mortem examination on the dead body of Geeta on January 12, 1983 at 1.35 P.M. In the said report of the said doctor, five external injuries as indicated were found on the person of the deceased which were ante mortem and the third ligature mark indicated in the report could be caused by encircling the neck by means of the string of a petticoat (M.O.1) by pulling the ends. The doctor also opined that injuries Nos. IV and V could be caused by finger nails and first blows. On dissection found the skin contused. The doctor opined that death was due to cerebral anoxia as a result of strangulation of neck. The doctor categorically opined that the death was not due to hanging.

It was, however, contended before the learned Sessions Judge of behalf of the accused that as the blood vessels of the artery of the trachea and larynx and the trachea was not found affected by the doctor holding pose-mortem examination, it could not be held with any certainty that suicide by self-strangulation had not been committed. Such contention was made be referring to some observations in Mode’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology.

 P.W. 11 holding post-mortem examination of the deceased did not notice the larynx and trachea affected as well as injury in the neck muscle. He also did not find hyoid bone fractured but found congestion in the deep structure of throat. If suicide be self-strangulation with the help of some contrivance committed, then according to Mode’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology, injuries on deep structure of the neck muscles are, as a rule, absent.

23- In our view, the case of committing suicide by self-strangulation by the deceased must be ruled out. Both in Modi’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology and in Taylor’s Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence, to which our attention was drawn by Mr. Ranjit Kumar, it has been clearly indicated that suicide by self-strangulation is very rare. For committing suicide by self-strangulation, the person committing suicide must take aid of a contrivance so as to ensure application of sufficient force until death by strangulation. Without such contrivance, sufficient force cannot be applied because initially with the application of force, insensitivity will develop for which the hands pulling the ends of the string must get loosened. In the instant case, no contrivance was noticed either by P. Ws. 6 and 7 who had come to examine the deceased by hearing the alarm.

In the instant case, it has been clearly established that the death occurred on account of strangulation. Simply because the doctor (P. W. 11) noticed injuries on the deep muscle of the neck of the deceased at the time of holding post-mortem, it cannot be held that such injuries noticed by the doctor had convincingly established that it was a case of death by self strangulation, because of what has been opined by Modi. We may indicate here that suicide by self-strangulation, according to the learned author, is a rare incident. Such view has also been expressed in Taylor’s Principle and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence. It is not unlikely that for want of large number of cases of suicide by strangulation to be studied carefully, various features associated with such suicide could not be indicated more precisely. That apart, opinions expressed in the said treatise are at best, opinions of expert, which though deserve due consideration with respect, cannot be held absolutely conclusive particularly, when other evidences clearly established give a contra indication.

26- It may also be indicated here that both in Modi’s book on Medical Jurisprudence and Taylor’s book on Medical Jurisprudence, it has been categorically stated that for committing suicide by self-strangulation, the aid of a contrivance to maintain force till death is got to be taken, otherwise, it is not possible to maintain the force required. The absence of such contrivance clearly rules out any possibility of suicide by self-strangulation. In the aforesaid fact, excepting the accused no other person had any opportunity whatsoever to cause the murder of the deceased. The circumstantial evidence in this case are absolutely clinching in establishing the complicity of the accused in committing the murder of the deceased. The view taken by the High Court is clearly against the weight of the evidence and cannot be held to be a possible view which could have been taken.
AIR 1997 SC 286 : (1996) 11 SCC 264 : JT 1996 (9) SC 708 : (1996) 7 SCALE 761 : (1997) CriLJ SC 246 – Godabarish Mishra Versus Kuntala Mishra and another

7th Case

6- Let us consider whether the factual findings at the post-mortem examination of the deceased and the evidence of Dr. Sher Singh is supported by medical jurisprudence. Taylor’s Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence, Thirteenth Edition, 1984 by Keith Mant, Vol. 1 stated at page No. 282 that asphyxia being a condition in which there is an inadequate supply of oxygen to the tissues. It may be defined as a state in which the body lacks oxygen because of some mechanical interference with the process of breathing. At page No. 283 it was further stated that cyanosis indicates the blue colour of the skin, mucous membranes and of internal organs, notably spleen, liver and kidneys. The capillary dilation that accompanies a reduction in oxygen tension promotes stasis and therefore a vicious cycle of suboxygenation of the blood commences. The return of blood to the heart is diminished. The resultant impaired oxygenation leads to further capillary dilation, further stasis, with deepening cyanosis …… Probably results from a combination of stasis and hypoxia. Fluid exudes into the tissue spaces.

7. At page No. 286 it was also stated of the distinction between suffocation and strangulation that conditions associated with mechanical asphyxia include suffocation where the interference with the process of breathing is at the level of the nose or mouth; strangulation where there is compression of the neck, either by (a) the human hand (manual strangulation or throttling); (b) a ligature. In paragraph 6 he stated that in each of these categories the obstructive process at the various level will result in the development of the symptoms and the signs associated with asphyxia previously described. At page No. 287 of general features of asphyxia, it was stated that the head and face may show intense congestion and cyanosis with numerous petechiae. Blood exudes from the mouth and nose. Blood tinged frothy fluid is present in air passages. Mucus may be found at the back of the mouth and throat. The lungs which are of particular interest, usually show in addition to congestion of inter-alveolar capillaries, the presence of the oedema fluid in the alveoli, areas of haemorrhage and collapse with intervening emphysema…….

8. Regarding post-mortem appearances in strangulation at page No. 305 it was stated that a careful search in suitable mortuary conditions will usually reveal either external or internal evidence of the area where the construction has occurred. At page No. 306 the General Internal appearances, it is stated that internally the air passages contain fine froth, often blood stained. The lungs are congested with subpleural petechiae. Mycroscopically there is usually intense inter-alveolar congestion with haemorrhages of varying size, fluid in the alveoli, areas of collapse and intervening areas of ruptured alveoli. The air passages often contain large areas of desquamated respiratory type epithelium, red blood cells and fluid. The remaining organs show only congestive changes.

9. These conditions vary because of the circumstances that the assailants usually employ considerably more force than would appear to be necessary to ensure that death takes place. In general terms the mark of the neck is usually of the same width as the constricting object and the depth is about half its diameter. Regarding finger-nail marks it was stated that in manual strangulation the marks of bruising will be on the front or sides of the neck, chiefly about the larynx and about it. Marks of pressure of fingers may, however be slight. The distribution of these marks when present will vary with the circumstances, and factors which will affect it include the relative position of the assailant and victim, the manner of gripping the neck, being greater if the grip is shifted or has been reapplied if the victim struggles, and the degree of pressure. The solid tissues of the neck are of extreme importance in cases of suspected strangulation. The solid structures comprise the hyoid bone and the cartilages forming the larynx. If the body is found to have died with marks on the neck which indicate manual strangulation and this is subsequently confirmed in the mortuary and laboratory the case must be regarded as a killing by another person. It is inconceivable that anyone could die from compression of the neck by his own hand because loss of consciousness would cause relaxation of the constricting fingures.

10. In Gradwohl’s Legal Medicine, Second Edition in Chapter 18 under the caption interpretation of Post-Mortem Appearances in Death from Respiratory Obstruction and Compression of the Neck, at page No. 336 it was stated that Systemic and pulmonary congestion and dilatation of the heart are classically described as signs of an asphyxial death. At page No. 337 regarding hyoid bone it was stated that two mechanisms have been suggested in which the hyoid bone may be fractured:from direct lateral compression and from indirect violence. Direct lateral compression is one mechanism in manual strangulation, when pressure is applied under the angles of the jaw.

11. Medical jurisprudence by Raju and Jhala in Chapter XXV death from asphyxia and death from drowning at page No. 226 stated that the heart in asphyxia, specifically right chambers, is always found full of dark venous blood. This is important to note as usually with death, blood disappears from the heart. The venous system of circulation, because of back pressure, is always found distended with blood. The blood in heart and veins is not only dark blue but also liquid and remains liquid……. The internal organs and mucous membrane also present the general signs of congestion…… This congestion has to be looked for and has to be found in all cases of genuine asphyxia.

12. In Medical jurisprudence and Toxicology, 13th Edn. by Modi at page No. 155 it was stated that in the case of constriction occurring at the end of expiration the lungs are congested, oedematous and exude bloody serum on being cut, but are pale if constriction occurred at the end of inspiration…. The right side of the heart, the pulmonary artery and venae and cavae are full of dark fluid blood, and the left side is empty. The abdominal organs are usually congested. The brain is usually normal, it may be pale or congested according to the mode of death. For symptoms at page No. 158 it was pointed out that if the wind pipe is compressed so suddenly as to occlude the passage of air altogether, the individual is rendered powerless to call for assistance, becomes insensible and dies instantly. If the windpipe is not completely closed, the face becomes cyanosed, bleeding occurs from the mouth, nostrils and ears, the hands are clenched and convulsions precede death. As in hanging, insensibility is very rapid, and death is quite painless. Regarding appearances on the neck he stated at page No. 159 that if the fingers are used (throttling) marks of pressure by the thumb and fingers are usually found on either side of the windpipe….. At page No. 161, appearances due to asphyxia it was stated that the face is swollen and cyanosed, and marked with petechiae. The eyes are prominent and open. In some cases they may be closed. The conjunctive are congested, and the pupils are dilated. The lips are blue. Bloody foam escapes from the mouth and nostrils, and sometimes pure blood issues from the mouth, nose and ears, especially if great violence has been used. Regarding internal appearances he stated that the cornua of the hyoid bone may be fractured, also the cornua of thyroid cartilage but fracture of the cervical vertebrae is extremely rare. The liver may show cloudy swelling and necrosis of the cells, if death has been delayed. The kidneys may show signs of nephritis, and on section the straight tubules may be filled with debris of the blood corpuscles giving the appearances of reddishbrown markings.

14. In H.W.V. Coxs Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology by Dr. Bernard Knight, 5th Edn. in Chapter 1 at page No. 207 it was stated that strangulation is again a term which is not exact in itself, as there are several types of strangulation, mainly manual strangulation and trangulation by a ligature. Though both these are similar, there are certain differences which are reflected in the pathological findings. strangulation is not by any means the same thing as asphyxia; in fact, a better name would be ‘pressure on the neck’, which is used as an alternative description by some pathologists. Regarding manual strangulation and the length of the time required to cause death at page No. 213 it is stated that the length of time for which pressure on the neck must be maintained to cause death is very variable, from zero seconds to several minutes. The statement regarding length of time he stated that no dogmatic statement of time of two minutes or three minutes can be made. It is of little practical value as unless a witness is present, there is never any way of determining such times. If, however, there is physical evidence of pressure on the neck from bruises and haemorrhage, but no congestion whatsoever, then it is certain that death was relatively rapid before these classical signs appeared, due to reflex cardiac arrest. Where death is due to cerebral anoxia from compression of carotid vessels, then there is usually cyanosis and congestion due to simultaneous blockage of the jugular venous system, though ignorance of time factors make this statement of little practical value. In Taylor’s Medical jurisprudence it was stated at page No. 282 that the amount of pulmonary oedema can be used to estimate the time interval between injury and death. In practice it is seldom of value as it is common experience that the changes described can develop with great rapidity when a patient dies after choking. At page No. 285, asphyxia by violence, it is stated that if the breathing is interfered with for a sufficient period of time unconsciousness and death will supervene.

15. The contention of Sri U. R. Lalit that the palms were not clenched and the eyes did not protrude but were half closed, the mouth was closed and tonghe was not protruding, the duration of death of 5 to 10 minutes as opined by doctor and in the case of death by strangulation, the death would be instant and that, therefore, it is not a case of strangulation but suicide does not cast any doubt on the cause of death. Above study of medical jurisprudence establishes that the symptoms found at post-mortem are not uniform but variable depending on the compression employed on the neck and duration. It would be an inferential fact since direct evidence would rarely be available. The discussion of the medical jurisprudence conclusively establishes that all the symptoms found on the dead body of Shashi Bala unmistakably show that her death was due to pressure on the neck and the findings at the post-mortem examination recorded by the doctor and the evidence of Dr. Sher Singh, P.W. 1, are consistent with medical jurisprudence.The duration of death also depends on the mode of pressure employed and the circumstances in which constriction was done. Doctor’s evidence is clear, cogent and convincing in his findings that the death was due to asphyxia and not due to suicide. We place on record that Dr. Sher Singh had meticulously done an expert and excellent autopsy with grasp of medical jurisprudence to establish, without any shadow of doubt, of the cause of death of Shashi Bala as asphyxia.

AIR 1992 SC 1175 : (1992) 2 SCR 484 : (1992) 3 SCC 43 : JT 1992 (2) SC 554 : (1992) 1 SCALE 804 : (1992) CriLJ SC 1529 -Mulakh Raj Versus Satish Kumar and others

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