Passengers can be prosecuted if an inebriated driver mows down pedestrians: HC

When an inebriated car driver condition mows down three pedestrians on a beach road at 3:30 am, all those who traveled along with him/her can also be prosecuted for the offense of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, since they would become abettors of the offense, the Madras High Court has held.

Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy said whether the passengers could escape from criminal culpability would depend upon the facts such as the time of the road accident, the place where it took place and so on. If the facts prove that they were on a late night after-party stroll in the car, then they would have to face the consequences under criminal law.

The judgment was passed while refusing to discharge a woman doctor who traveled along with her college going brother in his car that ran berserk on Kamarajar Salai in the city in November 2013, killing two fish vendors and a head constable besides injuring three others and damaging several motor vehicles before coming to a halt at the All India Radio office.

The criminal revision petitioner Lakshmi had approached the High Court against the refusal of a Sessions Court to discharge her from the case booked jointly against her younger brother Anbusurya, friend Krish alias Sebastian Krishnan and herself. She claimed to have been a mere passenger who could not be prosecuted for the offense of culpable homicide.

However, Government Advocate (criminal side) S. Vinoth Kumar opposed her plea and contended that she had full knowledge of her brother being inebriated and yet did not prevent him from driving the car. Therefore, she could be prosecuted on the ground of having abetted the killing of the three pedestrians, he said.

Finding strength in his submissions, the judge wrote: “There is a positive act of the petitioner in having opened the car door and sitting in the front seat to participate in the journey. Whether this positive act would amount to instigation of the first accused to drive the vehicle in an inebriated condition would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case.

“In this case, the time was 3.30 am and the place of occurrence was near the beach. Thus, it is clear that if any person joins the person in an inebriated condition for a late night after the party stroll in a car to the beach that by itself is a positive act of instigating the person to drive the vehicle in an inebriated condition. “

He went on to state: “Therefore, there are no merits in this revision. There is equal criminal liability on all three accused persons, who set out on a journey at the odd hours. Just because only one person was behind the wheel and the others were sitting in the passenger seats, it does not make a difference in any way.”

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