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Monday, April 25, 2011

Circumstantial Evidence : The Law


The Supreme Court in Inspector of Police, Tamil Nadu v. John David has discussed the law relating to conviction based on Circumstantial Evidence. While discussing various judicial precedents on the topic, the Court held as under;

CASE ON CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

19.The principle for basing a conviction on the edifice of circumstantial evidence has also been indicated in a number of decisions of this Court and the law is well-settled that each and every incriminating circumstance must be clearly established by reliable and clinching evidence and the circumstances so proved must form a chain of events from which the only irresistible conclusion that could be drawn is the guilt of the accused and that no other hypothesis against the guilt is possible. This Court has clearly sounded a note of caution that in a case depending largely upon circumstantial evidence, there is always a danger that conjecture or suspicion may take the place of legal proof. The Court must satisfy itself that various circumstances in the chain of events have been established clearly and such completed chain of events must be such as to rule out a reasonable likelihood of the innocence of the accused. It has also been indicated that when the important link goes, the chain of circumstances gets snapped and the other circumstances cannot in any manner, establish the guilt of the accused beyond all reasonable doubts. It has been held that the Court has to be watchful and avoid the danger of allowing the suspicion to take the place of legal proof. It has been indicated by this Court that there is a long mental distance between 'may be true' and 'must be true' and the same divides conjectures from sure conclusions.

20.This Court in the case of State of U.P. v. Ram Balak & Anr., reported at (2008) 15 SCC 551 had dealt with the whole law relating to circumstantial evidence in the following terms: - "11. It has been consistently laid down by this Court that where a case rests squarely on circumstantial evidence, the inference of guilt can be justified only when all the incriminating facts and circumstances are found to be incompatible with the innocence of the accused or the guilt of any other person. (See Hukam Singh v. State of Rajasthan, Eradu v. State of Hyderabad, Earabhadrappa v. State of Karnataka, State of U.P. v. Sukhbasi, Balwinder Singh v. State of Punjab and Ashok Kumar Chatterjee v. State of M.P.) The circumstances from which an inference as to the guilt of the accused is drawn have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and have to be shown to be closely connected with the principal fact sought to be inferred from those circumstances. In Bhagat Ram v. State of Punjab it was laid down that where the case depends upon the conclusion drawn from circumstances the cumulative effect of the circumstances must be such as to negative the innocence of the accused and bring home the offences beyond any reasonable doubt.

We may also make a reference to a decision of this Court in C. Chenga Reddy v. State of A.P. wherein it has been observed thus: (SCC pp. 206-07, para 21) `21. In a case based on circumstantial evidence, the settled law is that the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is drawn should be fully proved and such circumstances must be conclusive in nature. Moreover, all the circumstances should be complete and there should be no gap left in the chain of evidence. Further, the proved circumstances must be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused and totally inconsistent with his innocence.'

11. In Padala Veera Reddy v. State of A.P. it was laid down that when a case rests upon circumstantial evidence, such evidence must satisfy the following tests: (SCC pp. 710-11, para 10)

`(1) the circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be drawn, must be cogently and firmly established;

(2) those circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards guilt of the accused;

(3) the circumstances, taken cumulatively, should form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the accused and none else; and

(4) the circumstantial evidence in order to sustain conviction must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be inconsistent with his innocence.'

`10. ... It is well to remember that in cases where the evidence is of a circumstantial nature, the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should in the first instance be fully established, and all the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused. Again, the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency and they should be such as to exclude every hypothesis but the one proposed to be proved. In other words, there must be a chain of evidence so far complete as not to leave any reasonable ground for a conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and it must be such as to show that within all human probability the act must have been done by the accused.'

16. A reference may be made to a later decision in Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra. Therein, while dealing with circumstantial evidence, it has been held that the onus was on the prosecution to prove that the chain is complete and the infirmity of lacuna in prosecution cannot be cured by false defence or plea. The conditions precedent in the words of this Court, before conviction could be based on circumstantial evidence, must be fully established. They are: (SCC p. 185, para 153)

(1) the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established. The circumstances concerned `must' or `should' and not `may be' established;

(2) the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused, that is to say, they should not be explainable on any other hypothesis except that the accused is guilty; 

(3) the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency;

(4) they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved; and

(5) there must be a chain of evidence so complete as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability the act must have been done by the accused."

These aspects were highlighted in State of Rajasthan v. Raja Ram, at SCC pp. 187-90, paras 9-16 and State of Haryana v. Jagbir Singh." 

21.In the light of the above principle we proceed to ascertain whether the prosecution has been able to establish a chain of circumstances so as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion that the allegations brought against the respondent are sufficiently proved and established.

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