CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE: SOLE BASIS FOR CONVICTION?

(BY- HARSHITA SETIA)

A question that often arises is whether a circumstantial evidence could be considered as a sole basis for conviction in a trial or not? Supreme Court in various judgements has clarified this and laid down set guidelines that need to be complied with before considering a circumstantial evidence as a basis for conviction.

A circumstantial evidence is a non direct evidence. Circumstantial evidence comes into picture when there is no direct witness or evidence straightforwardly pointing a finger at the accused. It is merely a fact which could allow the court to make an assumption about the accused’s relation with the offence. In the case of Shivaji Chintappa Patil v State of Maharashtra[1], for example, a woman was found dead in her house, her husband was the prime suspect in the case. It was pointed out by the woman’s mother and family members that the husband was addicted to liquor and often used to beat his wife. There were circumstantial evidences linking the death of the woman to the actions of her husband. The accused was convicted by the trial court and the High Court. The Supreme Court however observed that the prosecution in the case did not prove the case beyond reasonable doubt and the benefit of the doubt was given to the accused ultimately resulting in his acquittal. The apex court in the judgement relied upon para 153(1) of their judgement in the case Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra[2] which stated that,” the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established.”

Supreme Court has laid down the features of consideration of circumstantial evidences in a landmark case of Mustakeen v State of Rajasthan[3], wherein one such feature states that circumstances concerned ‘must be’ or ‘should be’ proved and not ‘may be’ proved.

The other guidelines provided were:

“(i) 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,
(ii) The circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency,
(iii) They should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved, and
(iv) 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”.[4]

Owing to the fact that the circumstantial evidence is covered as an issue in so many cases prior to the case of shivaji patil, the Supreme Court mentioned that the concept of circumstantial evidence is already clarified by the Court. Another observation in the aforesaid case was the shift in burden of proof from prosecution to the appellant in compliance with section 106 of the evidence act, to which the apex court stated out that the prosecution did not initially shifted the burden on the appellant.

Upon inspection, one could clearly interpret the stance of the apex court on circumstantial evidences, the conviction based upon such evidences is possible when these conditions laid down by The Supreme Court are fulfilled. Hence, it is clear that circumstantial evidences could be a base for conviction if there is a direct chain which is only pointing out the accused to be the offender and there is no benefit of doubt present. 

 

[1] Criminal Appeal No. 1348 Of 2013

[2] 1984 AIR 1622

[3]Criminal Appeal No.1370/2008

[4]Mustakeen v State of Rajasthan, Criminal Appeal No.1370/2008

 

 

 

 

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