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PRINCIPLES GOVERNING CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, and Justice Dipak Misra in the case of Jagroop Singh vs State Of Punjab Decided on 20 July, 2012 AIR 2012 SC 2600 QUOTED FOLLOWING CASE LAWS
In Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1984 SC 1622, a three-Judge Bench has laid down five golden principles which constitute the “panchsheel” in respect of a case based on circumstantial evidence. Referring to the decision in Shivaji Sahebrao Bobade v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1973 SC 2622 = (1973) 2 SCC 793 , it was opined that it is a primary principle that the accused must be and not merely may be guilty before a Court can convict and the mental distance between `may be’ and `must be’ is long and divides vague conjectures from sure conclusions. Thereafter, the Bench proceeded to lay down that 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; that the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency; that they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved; and that 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.”
In Padala Veera Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh and others 1989 Supp (2) SCC 706 : 1991 SCC (CRI) 407, this Court held that when a case rests upon circumstantial evidence, the following tests must be satisfied: (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.”
The similar view has been reiterated in Ramreddy Rajesh Khanna Reddy and another v. State of A.P. (2006) 10 SCC 172.

In Balwinder Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1996 SC 607 , it has been laid down that the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully proved and those circumstances must be conclusive in nature to connect the accused with the crime. All the links in the chain of events must be established beyond reasonable doubt and the established circumstances should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused and totally inconsistent with his innocence. In a case based on circumstantial evidence, the Court has to be on its guard to avoid the danger of allowing suspicion to take the place of legal proof and has to be watchful to avoid the danger of being swayed by emotional considerations, however strong they may be, to take the place of proof.
In Harishchandra Ladaku Thange v. State of Maharashtra AIR 2007 SC 2957, while dealing with the validity of inferences to be drawn from circumstantial evidence, it has been emphasised 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 and further 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 State of U.P. v. Ashok Kumar Srivastava AIR 1992 SCW 640 = AIR 1992 SC 840 emphasis has been laid that it is the duty of the Court to take care while evaluating circumstantial evidence. If the evidence adduced by the prosecution is reasonably capable of two inferences, the one in favour of the accused must be accepted. That apart, the circumstances relied upon must be established and the cumulative effect of the established facts must lead to a singular hypothesis that the accused is guilty.
In Ram Singh v. Sonia and Ors. AIR 2007 SC 1218 , while referring to the settled proof pertaining to circumstantial evidence, this Court reiterated the principles about the caution to be kept in mind by Court. It has been stated therein 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.
In Ujagar Singh v. State of Punjab (2007) 13 SCC 90, after referring to the aforesaid principles pertaining to the evaluation of circumstantial evidence, this Court stated that it must nonetheless be emphasised that whether a chain is complete or not would depend on the facts of each case emanating from the evidence and no universal yardstick should ever be attempted.

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