In the words of the Honorable Supreme Court, "Perfect proof is seldom to be acquired in this imperfect world and absolute certainty is a fallacy," as stated in the case of Ramanand v. State of Himachal Pradesh (1981). The idea of circumstantial evidence develops because the court must rely on indirect evidence to make decisions in each case where direct evidence could not be located. The last seen theory is likewise based on the same principles as other criminal cases. When there is no clear or concrete evidence indicating how the crime was committed or who committed it, this theory is used as a last resort to determine the case's outcome.
In accordance with this view, the person who was last seen with the deceased right before his passing or within a reasonable time after his passing, during which no other person could have interposed between them, is presumed to be the perpetrator of the crime. The onus of proof now moves to him to disprove this reality, and if he is unable to provide a convincing justification for his innocence, the presumption grows even greater.
Doctrine of last seen theory:
As no fact occurs in a vacuum, this theory's foundation is based on the concepts of probability, cause, and link. Essentially, it means that if one event occurs, other occurrences that are likely to be its aftereffects or that are connected to it either in the past or in the future also occur. These conclusions or hypotheses are inferred logically based on how a reasonably competent guy would connect the dots in the given situation.
According to the "Doctrine of Inductive Logic" in Section 7 of the Indian Evidence Act, any fact related to the occasion, cause, or effect of the thing that occurred or that provided an opportunity for its occurrence will be relevant if it contributed to the circumstances in which that thing occurred. The individual who was last seen with the victim would also have a chance to commit the crime according to the last seen idea.
This presumption of fact is made in accordance with Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, which allows the court to assume the existence of certain facts in matters involving natural occurrences, human behaviour, and public and private business if the existence of other facts is established. According to this idea, it might be assumed that A killed B if A was the last person to be seen with B right before his death because A had plenty of time to carry out the crime. However, this presumption is not seen as being absolute evidence of the person's guilt, and the accused is free to refute it. According to the principle established in the case of Woolmington v. Director of Public Prosecution, it only shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the individual to establish his innocence, which is an exception in criminal law (1935). In this situation, the events that took place while he was last seen with the victim are only known by him because Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act stipulates that the person with special knowledge of a fact or circumstance bears the burden of proving it.
Even though the last seen theory frees the court from having to prove guilt, it is weak evidence and needs to be supported by other evidence, such as whether the person who was last seen with the deceased had a reason for doing so or whether he might have even administered the type of injury that resulted in death. The Hon'ble Supreme Court stated in the matter of Jaswant Gir v. State of Punjab (2005) that it is risky to convict someone simply based on this argument if the other linkages are missing to corroborate it. For instance, if the deceased was last seen with an elderly woman who herself has trouble walking and the deceased died as a result of several injuries from a knife. It is therefore illogical to assume that the elderly woman committed murder in this instance, even though it will be established that she was last seen. In order for the circumstances to be unquestionably determinative in nature and prove the person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the fact that they were last seen should also be corroborated by additional factors. When making decisions of this nature, the court must exercise caution because even the smallest factors might drastically alter the outcome.
How can the person disprove the last seen notion and demonstrate his innocence?
Once it is proven that the accused was last seen with the subject, it does not follow that he is necessarily guilty. It is not necessary that the identical circumstance existed as the Court projected based on logic because every coin has two sides, thus he is given a fair chance to refute this inference. The accused may use one of the defences outlined in Satpal Singh v. State of Haryana (2018) to refute the presumption since the last seen theory is not a reliable source of information:
It may be possible to deny the accused's guilt if he can provide evidence that he was with the other person when the crime was committed.
If it is established that he was not the last individual to interact with the victim because someone else stood between them and the accused, placing blame on the third party,
The court may assume that there is a possibility that some other circumstance may have intervened to cause this specific offence to be committed if the accused can demonstrate that there was a fair amount of time between the commission of the wrong and when they were last seen together.
If the accused establishes that the person who last witnessed him with the victim is not credible for any reason, such as because he might be a kid witness or stock witness, the court will be unable to rely on that witness's testimony.
Digamber Vaishnav & Anr. v. State of Chattisgarh (2019)
In this case, it was decided that there needed to be a fair amount of time between the time someone was last seen with the deceased and when their body was found in order to tip the needle in their direction. And in this instance, it was affirmed that the accuser cannot be found guilty based solely on the fact that they were last seen together. To convict the accused based on the doctrine of last seen, the last seen theory along with all other circumstances refuting their innocence must be proven.
Satpal Singh v. the State of Haryana
In some circumstances, even though there was a significant amount of time between the event and the time they were last seen together, if the prosecution can prove that no one else could have intervened because the accused had sole possession of the scene of the incident, the last seen theory can still be established and a presumption made, as was the case.