The Delhi High Court has suspended the 10-year jail term of a Zimbabwean woman in a narcotic recovery case, noting there was an alleged non-compliance of the procedure for sampling the seized substance and that the accused has already undergone over four years in custody.
Justice Anish Dayal said the standing orders issued by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and the Ministry of Finance ought to be respected by the probe agencies and the lack of compliance of these provisions imports an element of reasonable doubt, which would also impact the issue of proving the guilt of the accused.
“In this case, besides the fact that the appellant may have a case to argue on the issue of defective sampling at the time of seizure, the appellant has also undergone a substantial period of sentence and the appeal is likely to take some time for hearing,” stated the court in its recent order passed on an appeal by the accused against her conviction and sentencing by a trial court.
“This court deems it fit to suspend the sentence of the appellant. It is, therefore, directed that the sentence of the appellant be suspended pending the hearing of the appeal, on furnishing a personal bond in the sum of Rs 1,00,000 with one surety bond of the like amount” the court ordered.
It noted that the Supreme Court has said that in cases other than life sentence cases, the broad parameter of 50 per cent of the actual sentence undergone can be the basis for grant of bail.
“The appellant is a 38-year-old lady who is a citizen of Zimbabwe and has already undergone four years, 11 months and 18 days in custody,” the court said.
The appellant, Betty Rame, was apprehended by an NCB team in April 2018 at the IGI Airport and two packets weighing three kg and containing a crystalline substance — later confirmed as Methamphetamine — were recovered from her.
In August 2021, she was convicted and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 10 years with a fine of Rs 1 lakh under the NDPS Act.
Seeking suspension of the sentence during the pendency of the appeal, the counsel for the petitioner argued that the contraband was admittedly seized from two separate bags but the contents of the two bags were mixed and then samples were collected, which was not in terms of the standing orders.
The court said the issue of improper sampling would have to be considered carefully at the time of adjudication of the appeal since prima facie it seemed that the results of two samples drawn were not completely placed on record and there was evidently a mix of both the packets which were seized.
The court observed that the standing orders serve a purpose and cannot be rendered optional for compliance to the investigating agencies and their non-compliance invokes a reasonable doubt relating to the process of sampling which is the most critical procedure to be carried out in order to ascertain the nature of the substance and its quantity.
“In this court’s view, the standing orders ought to be respected by the investigating agencies…The procedures prescribed in the said orders are based upon a certain logic which ought to be respected, or else it would be a worthless piece of paper…The lack of compliance of these provisions necessarily imports an element of doubt, moreover a reasonable doubt,” the court said.
The court said the suspension of sentence was subject to conditions and directed the appellant to not leave the country without prior permission and deposit the copy of her passport and also report to the investigating officer on every first and third Monday of the month.