Five golden principles for proving a case based on circumstantial evidence

Being a case based on circumstantial evidence, prosecution has to establish that the circumstance from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn are fully established and all the facts so established are consistent only with the hypothesis of guilt of the accused and are all of conclusive nature and tendency and exclude every other hypothesis except the one proposes to be proved.

Circumstantial Evidence

The principles are well settled. The five golden principles which constitute the panchsheel of the proof of a case based on circumstantial evidence are laid down in Sharad v. State of Maharashtra (AIR 1984 SC 1622). It reads as follows:

The following conditions must be fulfilled before a case against an accused can be said to be fully established:

1) the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established. It may be noted here that this Court indicated that the circumstances concerned ‘must or should’ and not ‘may be’ established. There is not only a grammatical but a legal distinction between ‘may be proved’ and “must be or should be proved” as was held by Apex Court in Shivaji Sahabrao Bobade v. State of Maharashtra where the following observations were made: [SCC para 19, p.807:SCC (Cri) p.1047]

Certainly, 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.

2) 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.

3) the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tedency.

4) they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved, and

5) 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 [(1989) Supp (2) SCC 706], the principles are reiterated as follows;

(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 same principles were reiterated in Bodhraj vs. State of Jammu & Kashmir(2002 (8) SCC 45, Bharat vs. State of Maharashtra (2003 (3) SCC 106), Jaswant Gir vs. State of Punjab (2005(12) SCC 438), Reddy Sampath Kumar vs. State of Andra Pradesh (2005 (7) SCC 603), Deepak Chandrakant Patil vs. State of Maharashtra(2006 (10) SCC 151, State of Goa vs. Sanjay Takran (2007 (3) SCC 755) and Sattatiyya alias Satish Rajanna Kartalla vs. State of Maharashtra (2008 (3) SCC 210).

The evidence is to be appreciated in the light of the settled legal position.

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