Conviction on the basis of Circumstantial Evidence

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The principles that would guide the courts in the administration of justice in dealing with cases based on circumstantial evidence were clearly laid down in 1982 and have been widely advocated on numerous occasions by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said that when dealing with the circumstantial rule, the specification applicable to such evidence should be kept in mind. In such cases, there is always a risk that guesswork could replace legal proof. Thus, it is fair to recall the warning delivered by Baren Anderson to the jury in Reg vs. Hedge, while basing the conviction solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence.

The question whether the conviction can be based on circumstantial evidence was again considered in Ashsih Barham v. State of M.P., in which the above point of view was reiterated.

When dealing with circumstantial evidence there is always the risk that surmise may substitute for legal evidence, hence the rule particularly applicable to such evidence should be kept in mind. Therefore, in cases where the evidence is of a circumstantial nature, the circumstances from which a finding of guilt must be drawn should be based on the following criteria, as has been consistently decided in a series of cases: –

  • First, be fully established.
  • All the facts thus established should only be compatible with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused.
  • The circumstances should be of a conculsive nature.
  • They should be such as to exclude any hypothesis except the one which it is proposed to prove.

In other words, there should be a so far complete chain of evidence so as to leave no reasonable grounds for a conclusion that is consistent with the guiltlessness of the accused and it should be such as to reveal that in all probabilities, the act must have been performed by an accused.

Kalua vs State of the U.P.

Kalua has been charged with murdering a deceased by shooting him with a pistol. The proven cirumstantial evidence was: –

  • a few days before the murder of the deceased, the accused had been threatened against him,
  • a cartridge was found near the bed of the deceased,
  • a pistol was recovered from his house,
  • the firearms expert considered that the cartridge found near the bed of the corpse had been fired with the pistol used by the accused.

It was decided that there could be no reason to believe, in the circumstances established in this case, that anyone other than the accused could have shot the deceased. He was sentenced.