Critical Analysis of the Standing Nuances of Circumstantial Evidence in Criminal proceedings


Evidence: Its concept and furcations

Don't leave inferences to be drawn when evidence can be presented.

-Richard Wright

the Concept

Evidence has procured an insurmountable extent of importance in the Criminal justice system all across the globe. The Indian legal system also gives such a. altar to this very important concept which has various facets of furcations within its meaning. The contriving of proof for the accusal of the delinquents is in fact based on this very intricate system of evidence collection and assessment. Thus before analyzing one of those facets of evidence, it is vital to understand the term itself.

The term Evidence has been under section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act (Hereinafter known as the Act). The word has been derived from the Latin word ‘ēvidēnt’ which means ‘obvious.’ Section 5 of the Act illustrates the basic requirement that is to be fulfilled for a piece of evidence to be held admissible: “Facts having whose relevancy has been declared and possess rational probative value.” Pretermiting the jargon, ‘evidence’ means anything by which an matter of fact which is being alleged is either proved or disproved. Anything that facilitates making the thing under question evident to the court is evidence.

The Furcations

Evidence, as previously stated has various facets to it the meaning of whose can be mould in a variety of ways. Firstly, the division may be adumbrated via the definition provided under Section 3 of the Act.

According to it, evidence means and includes all statements that permits or requires to be made before the court by the witnesses regarding any matter of fact which is under inquiry, and these are called as Oral Evidence. The second part talks about all documents including the electronic records, which are produced before the examination of court and there, distinguished from the oral testimonies, are known as Documentary Evidence.

Oral Evidence has been mentioned under Section 59 and Section 60 of the Act whereas Documentary Evidence is under Section 61 and Section 62. Documentary Evidence also includes Primary Evidence as well as the Secondary Evidence.

Now second mode of bifurcation is done as: Direct and Indirect circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is evidence of a fact based on a witness's personal knowledge or observation of that fact. A person's guilt of a charged crime may be proven by direct evidence if, standing alone, that evidence satisfies a jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the person's guilt of that crime.

It explicitly establishes the assertions made by the party without needing any kind of supplementation and or interference to form connection between various facts.

On the other hand, Circumstantial evidence is direct evidence of a fact from which a person may reasonably infer the existence or nonexistence of another fact. A person's guilt of a charged crime may be proven by circumstantial evidence, if that evidence, while not directly establishing guilt, gives rise to an inference of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This circumstantial evidence is under the scope of deliberation here.

Circumstantial Evidence in Criminal proceedings

In India, the term circumstantial evidence was first used by Sir James Stephen, stating circumstantial evidence to be facts that are relevant to the other fact, whose existence can prove by the existence of other fact.

The concept of circumstantial evidence has evolved through the evolution of interpretation of statutes and judicial interpretation.

Due to the reason that circumstantial evidence involves drawing of inferences the facts upon which the inference of guilt is drawn must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt must be the only one that can be drawn from the facts in a fairly and reasonable manner such that the evidence excludes beyond a reasonable doubt every reasonable hypothesis of innocence.

Thus Circumstantial evidence which is at times considered as identical in natures with direct evidence, may be distinguished from the same by the fact that direct evidence is intended evidence applicable directly to the fact which forms the subject of inquiry where as circumstantial evidence although equally direct in its nature, but, as its name imports, it is direct evidence of a minor fact or facts, incidental to or usually connected with some other fact as its accident, and from which such other fact is inferred.

Suppose for example: A witness deposes that he saw A. inflict injury on B which caused B to die instantly. This is a case of direct evidence. Whereas in a case where C. dies of poisoning and D who is proved to have habour a malice against him is known to have purchased poison seen carrying it in a bag which D’s company produces and several of it are found in D’s home but not the poison. The evidence of these facts is direct but the facts themselves are indirect and circumstantial, as applicable to the inquiry whether a murder has been committed and whether it was committed by D. The judgment in such a case is essentially deductive and inferential.

Judicial Outlook on Circumstantial evidence in Proceedings

The present contextual understanding of the role of circumstantial evidence in criminal proceedings has in fact developed through the plethora of landmark judicial decision sthat have been presented in this regard. In the case of Bodh Raj v. State of Jammu & Kashmir, the Hon’ble Court enumerated some of the most crucial points that have to be fulfilled for a conviction to be solely based on circumstantial evidence. They are:

  • Circumstances from which guilt is established are required to be built up immovably. In other words, should be proved and impenetrable

  • Circumstances should retain moral certainty and there should be no scope for any other explanation

  • All other hypothesis should be excluded except that one that is required to be proved

  • Circumstances should be conclusive in nature forming a link between the criminal and commission of the offence

In the case of Siddharth Vashisht alias Manu Sharma v. State of NCT of Delhi, the admissibility of the circumstantial evidence was brought under question and in the pursual of the same the Supreme Court resonated the same line of thought, stating that the events around the murder formed a chain of impenetrable evidence pointing towards the guilt of the accused. The presence of the accused at the crime scene which had been established through several witness testimonies, the circumstantial evidence where the vehicles and cartridges were connected to the accused and his conduct after the crime, wherein he absconded for a short period; all pointed to the fact that he was guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

In the judgment of Khem Karan v State of U.P, the court stated that:

“If all the circumstances and the evidence point towards the guilt of the accused and there is no possibility of any other alternative hypothesis then in such a situation only the accused can be convicted solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence.”

Admissibility of Circumstantial evidence

The admissibility of Circumstantial evidence thus can be understood with the judicial intent that was showcased in the essential elements numbered above. Now this line of understanding was accepted by a plethora of other legal pronouncements in India. The Supreme Court in Sathya Narayan v State opined that in specific cases it is conceivable where no immediate proof or observer is accessible, in such a circumstance the court can grant conviction exclusively on the premise of circumstantial proof if the accompanying five standards are connected.

The court thus proceeded on to enumerating five conditions just like how entailed under the Bodh Raj case, the essence of which may be summed up as:

“The conditions from which the finish of blame is to be drawn ought to be completely built up. The explanations so settled ought not to be clarified on some other conceivable theory aside from that the charged is blameworthy. The conditions ought to be of a decisive sort and propensity. There must be a chain of confirmation as to not leave any sensible ground for the acquittal of the charged.”

For the circumstantial evidence to sustain conviction, the evidence should be cogently and firmly established.

Therefore, looking at the above criteria for admitting a piece of evidence to the Court, one can conclude that Circumstantial evidence can be sole basis for a conviction, if circumstances establish the chain of events leading to the guilt of the accused and commission of the crime without other possibilities. The Court should be satisfied that the circumstances complete the chain of events and prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

Moreover, all the circumstances should indicate towards the guilt of the accused and should be inconsistent with his innocence. 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 defense or plea. The chain of events must make sure that no other conclusion or inference apart from the guilt of the accused can be drawn. There is no inherent requirement to provide proof of motive, if the link between the accused and commission of the offence cannot be broken, it is immaterial to establish motive.

The doctrine of Last seen in case of Circumstantial Evidence

The last scene doctrine, in common parlance, means: “the law presumes that the person last seen with the deceased before his death was responsible for his death, and the accused is expected to provide an explanation of what happened.”

However a circumstance leading to “last seen together” does not always lead up to the conclusion that it was the accused who has committed the crime. If the circumstances are limited to just “last seen together” devoid further corroboration, conviction cannot be based on the said assertion. The doctrine of “last seen together” shifts the onus onto the accused to establish his innocence. Thus, last seen together is not a conclusive proof establishing guilt, it is imperative to look at surrounding circumstances such as victim relationship, history of hostility, weapon recovery, relationship between the victim and the accused among others. The proximity between the time of death and last seen together is essential to conclude that the accused and deceased were last seen together without the probability of other persons coming in between exists.

Importance of Conduct while ascertaining the evidence

Conduct of the accused secures a substantial role in corroborating or establishing circumstantial evidence. Derailed conduct of the accused such as absconding, inability to provide explanation, inability to disclose location during the commission of offence, providing false alibis, all lead up to a degree of suspicion in a reasonable mind and destroys the presumption of innocence is a relevant factor in establishing guilt and building the chain of events.

Suppose for sake of an illustration After the murder of A, the prime accused B suddenly disappeared as if to avoid arrest would simply point to an inconsistent behavious that may be expected from an innocent man in such a situation, thus, increasing the presumption of guilt.

In such cases, if there is the absence of any direct evidence, a person can be convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone if the conditions mentioned above are satisfied

Section 106 of the Act also comes within the picture while dealing with circumstantial evidence. This section deals with the burden of proving a fact within the special knowledge of a particular person. When any fact is especially within the knowledge of any person, the burden of proving that fact is upon him.

For example, A does an act. The circumstances are such that the reasonable inference is that he did the act with a particular intention. If A wants to show that he did the act with a different intention then the burden is upon him, for A’s intention being a psychological fact and within A’s special knowledge, under the section, the burden is upon him.

If facts within the special knowledge of the accused are not satisfactorily explained by the accused it would be a factor against him, though by itself it would not be conclusive about his guilt. It would be relevant while considering the totality of the circumstantial evidence. Although this section should be liberally construed.