The Supreme Court of India has clarified an important legal interpretation regarding the use of deadly weapons during the commission of a crime under section 397 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). According to the ruling, the phrase “Offender uses any deadly weapon” includes not only the actual discharge or striking with the weapon but also mere exhibition or brandishing of it in a threatening manner.

Section 397 of the IPC deals with situations where an armed weapon is employed during a robbery. The interpretation of this section had been subject to legal debate: whether the accused must actually use the weapon by firing or stabbing to attract the harsher penalties prescribed under this section. This issue was definitively addressed in the case of RAM RATAN V. STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH [CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1333 OF 2018], presided over by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice A.S. Bopanna, and Justice Hima Kohli.

In this particular case, a complaint was lodged by Rajesh Meena on June 27, 2012. He reported that around 2:30 AM, two individuals, Rajendra and Chotu, woke him up, pointed a gun at his chest, and demanded money. When Meena informed them he had no money, the accused instead took his motorcycle. Following the investigation, the police charged the appellant under sections 392 (robbery) and 397 (robbery or dacoity, with attempt to cause death or grievous hurt) of the IPC. During the trial, the defense counsel argued that section 397 could not apply because, even assuming the accused had a firearm, they did not “use” it in the sense of firing it. The central legal question was whether the act of merely brandishing a weapon, without actual physical use such as firing or stabbing, could suffice to meet the threshold of “use” under section 397.

Justice Bopanna, delivering the judgment, clarified that “it is clear that the use of the weapon to constitute the offence under section 397 IPC does not require that the offender should actually fire from the firearm.” He further explained that mere exhibition or brandishing of the weapon in a threatening manner is sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the section. The Court thus held that the presence and threatening display of the weapon itself could be considered a “use” under the statute.

Moreover, the Court noted that in cases involving multiple accused, only the individual who actively brandished or exhibited the weapon in a threatening manner would be directly charged under section 397. However, vicarious liability could extend to others involved if section 397 is read in conjunction with sections 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) or 149 (offence committed by any member of an unlawful assembly) of the IPC. This ensures that all participants in a group crime could potentially face enhanced charges if the primary offense involved the use of a weapon by any member of the group.

The interpretation of the word “use” within section 397 has broader implications. The word “use” can have a variety of meanings, leading to confusion in its legal application. However, this judgment emphasizes that creating fear or apprehension in the mind of the victim through the mere display of a weapon is sufficient for the purposes of section 397. For instance, in many cinematic portrayals of bank robberies, the offender often points a gun at the cashier to expedite the theft without actually firing it. This act of pointing the weapon is deemed as “use” because it serves to intimidate and coerce the victim into compliance, thereby facilitating the robbery.

This Supreme Court ruling provides critical clarification and aligns the interpretation of section 397 with the legislative intent behind the law. The law aims to deter the use of deadly weapons in the commission of crimes by imposing harsher penalties, even if the weapon is not physically used to cause harm. The decision reinforces the principle that the mere presence and exhibition of a weapon in a manner that threatens the victim is sufficient to invoke the stringent penalties under section 397.

By thoroughly analyzing the object of the lawmakers, the Supreme Court has rightly convicted the accused under section 397 of the IPC, setting a precedent that emphasizes the deterrence of armed violence and the protection of public safety. This interpretation ensures that the law addresses the broader context of criminal intimidation and not just the physical act of using a weapon.


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