Circumstantial Evidence: Its Role and Importance Through Case Laws

Introduction

In legal context, evidence means anything that can be admitted by a court to prove or disprove alleged matters of any facts in a trial. Section 3 of the Indian evidence act, 1872 categorises evidence into two heads - one being the 'oral' evidence and the other being 'documentary' or written evidence. Evidence can be further classified into two subcategories - direct evidence and circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence is that evidence which relates to a series of other facts than the facts in issue but by experience have been found to be associated with the fact in issue in relation of cause and effect that leads to a satisfactory conclusion.

Circumstantial evidence must not be confused with hearsay or secondary evidence. The circumstantial evidence is always direct in primary. The facts from which the existence of the fact in issue to be inferred must be proved by direct evidence.
For example - If 'A' was accused of murder of a young boy but there was no evidence to the fact that any person saw that 'A' committing the crime and the only evidence live in the case was -

Deconstructing Forensic Science Criminal Procedure

  1. The accused a was seen with the boy going towards the place where his dead body was found.
  2. After the alleged murder he was seen alone without the boy near the place.
  3. The dead body was found as a result of these facts.

All the above-mentioned evidence are circumstantial evidence there being no direct evidence, the facts mentioned above may be inferred that the accused committed the offence.

The supreme court observed, in the landmark judgement in the case of Hanumant Govind Nargundkar vs State of MP that, it is well to remember that in cases where the evidence is of circumstantial nature the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be in the first instance be fully established and all the facts so stablished should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused.

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Judgements

Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 1 - Bodh Raj vs State of Jammu and Kashmir

In this famous case, the question before the court was whether the discovery of a weapon of assault on the basis of information given by the accused while in custody, was sufficient to fasten the guilt of the accused.
the court held that circumstantial evidence could be a sole basis for conviction under the circumstances as stated below are fully proved. The conditions are -

  1. From whatever circumstance guilt is established must be fully proved.
  2. All the facts of the case must be consistent with the theory of the guilt of the accused.
  3. The circumstances must be conclusive in nature.
  4. The circumstances must exclude and rule out each and every hypothesis one proposed to be proved.

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Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 2 - Prem Singh vs State (govt of NCT of Delhi)

After analysing the facts and testimonies of the various witnesses the court observed that this case is a case of circumstantial evidence and it is a well-established fact that where there is no direct evidence, the prosecution depends on circumstantial evidence for the conviction. The surmising of blame can be advocated just when every one of the implicating realities and conditions are discovered to be contrary with the innocence of the accused. There must be a chain of evidence present not leaving any ground for a conclusion which proves otherwise.

The court also emphasized upon prosecution proving the fact that the evidence must be such as to show that within all human probability, the act must have been done by the accused. All the links in the chain of circumstances must be complete and should be proved through cogent evidence.

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Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 3 - Sanatan Naskar and anr. vs State of West Bengal

In this case, there was no eyewitness present at the place of the incident. The court observed that it is a well established principle of law that an accused can be punished if he/she is found guilty even in the cases of circumstantial evidence. But it lies upon the prosecution to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that complete chain of events and circumstances points out that the accused is guilty and the guilt is established. The accused will not be entitled to acquittal merely because there is no eye witness in the case. An accused can be convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence subject to satisfaction of accepted principles in that regard.

Thus, in a case of circumstantial evidence, the prosecution must establish each instance of incriminating circumstance, by way of reliable and clinching evidence, and the circumstances so proved must form a complete chain of events, on the basis of which, no conclusion other than one of guilt of the accused can be reached.

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Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 4 - State of UP vs Ravindra Prakash Mittal

The accused was put on trial for the murder of Smt. Kamlesh, whose body was found burnt by kerosene oil and therefore major evidence was disappeared which was done to save himself from punishment. On the above allegations, he stood charge under two heads, that is under Sections 302 and 201 IPC.
The court held that -

  • The circumstances from which the assumption is taken should be established by the court regarding the following case.
  • The circumstances should be conclusive in nature i.e., indisputable by the court on the bases of the set of circumstantial evidence provided as evidence.
  • All the facts that are established should be accordant only with the supposition of guilt and not permitting to the innocence of the accused.
  • The circumstances should depend on moral certainty, that should exclude the possibility of the guilt of any person other than the accused person.

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Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 5 - State Of Uttar Pradesh vs Ram Kishan & Others

The court observed that the motive is a thing which is essentially known to the accused themselves and it isn't workable for the indictment to clarify what really elevated them to carry out the specific wrongdoing. The motive might be considered as a condition which is pertinent for evaluating the proof however in the event that the proof is clear and unambiguous, and the conditions demonstrate the blame of the charged, the equivalent isn't debilitated regardless of whether the motive is definitely not an extremely solid one. Similarly, regardless of whether there may not be an obvious motive yet on the off chance that the proof of the eyewitness is clear and dependable, the absence or insufficiency of motive can't hold up the conviction.

The court further held that - "We are clearly of opinion that this is a completely erroneous view of the prosecution evidence adduced in this case resulting in failure of justice. We are further satisfied that if the High Court had not read the evidence by introducing an extraneous gloss for the purpose of its A conclusion it could not have acquitted the accused."

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Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 6 - Rameshbhai Chandubhai Rathod vs State Of Gujarat

In this case, Human Blood was found on the T-shirt of the accused and no satisfactory explanation was presented by the appellant as to how the blood was found on his T-shirt. The High Court found the circumstances to be credible, rational, and reliable. The Court while referring the circumstances as noted by the High Court upheld the conviction. Additionally, it was submitted that in a case where circumstantial evidence is the foundation for conclusion of guilt the death sentence cannot be awarded.

The High Court stated that the evidence of the child witness after cautious assessment has been found to be acceptable and, therefore there is no infirmity in the conclusion of the High Court.

The High Court held that multiple witnesses have witnessed the accused and the deceased together in close proximity time at the time of occurrence and, therefore, the accused was required to illuminate the conditions under which as to how immediately thereafter the deceased was found to be dead. Therefore, the appeal filed by the accused appellant was rejected and the death sentence awarded was confirmed and other sentences and the conviction as recorded were approved.

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Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 7 - State of Maharashtra vs Dr. Praful B. Desai

In this landmark case, the question before the court was whether evidence can be recorded by video conferencing or not.

The supreme court held that as per the directions of section 3 of Indian evidence act, apart from oral and documentary evidence, electronic records can also be admitted as evidence. The court also observed that evidence ruled in criminal matters could be by way of electronic records, which would also include videoconferencing.

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Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 8 - Mulakh Raj vs Satish Kumar And Others

In this case, the court observed that certainly in the cases of circumstantial evidence motive carries important significance. Motive always will be locked up in the mind of the accused and some time it is difficult to unlock. People do not act entirely without motive. The inability to discover the motive of an offence does not indicate its non-existence. The failure to prove motive is not fatal as a matter of law. Proof of motive is never an indispensable for conviction. When facts are clear it is immaterial that no motive has been proved. Therefore, absence of proof of motive does not break down the link in the chain of circumstances connecting the accused with the offence, nor weighs against the prosecution case.

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Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 9 - Velmurugan vs State

The counsel for the accused persistently besetting the judgment of conviction and sentence, submits that since the case is virtuously based upon circumstantial evidence, the prosecution has to establish all the associations in the chain of circumstances and even if one link is missing, the appellant/accused is entitled for acquittal. It was submitted that in the instant case, the prosecution failed to establish the motive part of the occurrence, which assumes importance in the case of circumstantial evidence and the case proceeded mainly based on the last seen theory spoken to by witnesses and recovery of material objects, which circumstances are not at all sufficient to connect the appellant/accused with the crime. Therefore, the learned counsel submits that this is solely a case for acquittal.

The prosecution case hinges upon circumstantial evidence, as the occurrence was not witnessed by anyone. Before delving into the issue, it is apt to refer the ruling on the circumstantial evidence.

The court in its judgement said – “We hold that there is absolutely no material for connecting the appellant/accused with regard to the offence of conspiracy and hence, we set aside the conviction and sentence imposed under Section 120(b) I.P.C., while confirming the conviction and sentence as far as other penal provisions are concerned.”

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Circumstantial Evidence Judgment No. 10 - Ramawati Devi vs. State of Bihar

In this case, the court observed, generally circumstantial evidence cannot be regarded as direct evidence, and with this concern, there have been a popular misconception that circumstantial evidence is less valid or less important than direct evidence. This is only partly true: direct evidence is usually considered more powerful, but successful criminal prosecutions often depend mainly on circumstantial evidence, and civil charges are frequently based on circumstantial or indirect evidence.

The court held - "What evidentiary value or weight has to be attached to such statement, must necessarily depend on the facts and circumstances of each particular case. In a proper case, it may be permissible to convict a person only on the basis of a dying declaration in the light of the facts and circumstances of the case........"

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Conclusion

Evidence is the most integral and indispensable element of any proceeding be it criminal or civil as it validates the fact. The facts can be used in evidence for deciding as well as to win the disputed facts. Evidence attaches weight to the facts quoted as evidence. Evidence can also be used to approve in disapprove theories. Cases can take a turn in different directions with the help of evidence.

Although circumstantial evidence is very crucial for criminal and civil proceedings they are generally misunderstood and the court on various occasions has held that circumstantial evidence shall not be confused with hearsay or secondary evidence. the circumstantial evidence is merely a direct evidence indirectly applied.

The various high courts all over the country and the honourable supreme court on numerous instances have clarified their stand on the provisions and laws relating to circumstantial evidence.
Circumstantial evidence can be summarised in the following points which can be called as five golden principles of circumstantial evidence and has been backed by the courts many times.
These rules are -

  1. The circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established.
  2. The fact stablished should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused.
  3. . The circumstances should be of conclusive nature and tendency.
  4. They should exclude every possible theory expect the one to be proved.
  5. . There must be a complete chain of evidence which should not leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human possibility the act must have been done by the accused.

Circumstantial evidence is a very important part of criminal law and evidence law and must not be undermined or misunderstood in any possible way.

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Deconstructing Forensic Science Criminal Procedure
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Ishaan Online
on 01 April 2021
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