circumstantial evidence conclusive in murder case

Supreme Court: In an appeal filed by the appellant seeking to challenge the order passed by the High Court, the Division Bench of Mehr Chand Mahajan* and N.H. Bhagwati, JJ., opined that the evidence that were provided, were so hopelessly discrepant and contradictory that no reliance could be placed on it. Further, the story given by all these witnesses, differed from witness to witness and it was not possible to accept it. The Supreme Court opined that there was no direct evidence connecting the appellant with the murder of the deceased girl and the circumstantial evidence in the present case was wholly of unsatisfactory character. The Supreme Court opined that it was settled that circumstantial evidence had to be very strong and of a conclusive character before a conviction could be based on a murder charge. Thus, the Supreme Court opined that the High Court had erred in holding that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to prove the guilt of the appellant, and accordingly set aside the order of the High Court and acquitted the appellant.

Background

On 14-11-1948, one of the witnesses, named Raoji filed a complaint at the police station, that twenty-four days before, his ten- or eleven-years old daughter went from his house with a buffalo to her brother in the field. However, her brother came back at noon and informed him that the buffalo had reached the field, but Raoji’s daughter did not. Further, after the search being made, her dead body was found lying in the jowar field, her neck was tied tightly and her private part was broken from which, blood was oozing out.

Thereafter, Sub-Inspector of police investigated the case, and the appellant was charged with the murder of Raoji’s daughter by strangulating her and by wounding her with a spear. The Additional Sessions Judge, Bidar (‘the Trial Court’) held that despite number of defects in the case and material discrepancies in the eyewitnesses’ statements, the case against the appellant was true. Further, the High Court upheld the decision of the Trial Court and dismissed the appeal.

Thus, the appellant filed the present appeal.

Analysis, Law, and Decision

The Supreme Court noted that though the offence was reported to the police on the very day of occurrence, and the dead body was taken to the police station, neither a Panchama was prepared, nor any report of the occurrence was recorded, and the dead body was allowed to be buried without a post-mortem. The Supreme Court opined that it was surprising the during the case investigation, which started after twenty-four days after the occurrence of the incident, the dead body was not exhumed, postmortem was conducted, or the blood-stained clothes were recovered.

The Supreme Court further opined that it was again somewhat strange that when Raoji made a report to the police, he did not mention that his son had seen the appellant and Salar having a spear in his hand, running from the field towards the north. No explanation was provided for this very glaring omission.

The Supreme Court opined that the High Court had based the conviction of the appellant on the first and second witnesses’ statement that they saw the appellant running from the field with spear in his hand. However, second witness said nothing at all about this incident and the first witness only stated that he saw them running from the field, and Salar had the spear in his hand. The Supreme Court opined that this wrong assumption had affected the decision in the present case.

The Supreme Court opined that the evidence that were provided, were so hopelessly discrepant and contradictory that no reliance could be placed on it. The story of the second witness that he saw the appellant and the co-accused dragging the girl, would have immediately raised a hue and cry, and if he ran to the village and informed Raoji, then there was no explanation provided by Raoji that when twenty-four days later, when he made a report to the police, why he did not mention this fact in his complaint. Similarly, if the first witness, had seen the accused running with a spear in his hand, then he must have informed Raoji about it, but again, no mention of this fact was made in the complaint.

The Supreme Court further opined that the story given by all these witnesses that the dead body was taken to the police and shown to the military officers, differs from witness to witness and it was not possible to accept it. It was highly unlikely that if the dead body was taken to the police station, the Sub-Inspector and Inspector would take no notice of it and they would have told to bury the dead body and the military officers would have behaved similarly.

The Supreme Court opined that there was no direct evidence connecting the appellant with the murder of the deceased girl and the circumstantial evidence in the present case was wholly of unsatisfactory character. The Supreme Court opined that it was settled that circumstantial evidence had to be very strong and of a conclusive character before a conviction could be based on a murder charge and in the present case, the evidence did not satisfy the test. Thus, the Supreme Court opined that the High Court had erred in holding that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to prove the guilt of the appellant, and accordingly set aside the order of the High Court and acquitted the appellant.

[Shaik Chand v. State of Hyderabad, (1952) 2 SCC 491, decided on 17-11-1952]

Note: Circumstantial evidence

Circumstantial evidence is evidence of circumstances which can be relied upon, to not prove fact directly, but instead point towards its existence. Generally, circumstantial evidence could not be regarded as direct evidence, but circumstantial evidence often has an advantage over direct evidence, as it is more difficult to suppress and fabricate. In Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra, (1984) 4 SCC 116, the Supreme Court laid down following five golden principles, which constitutes the panchsheel of proof, for a case based on circumstantial evidence:

  1. the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established;

  2. the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused, that is, the established facts should not be explainable on any other hypothesis except that the accused is guilty;

  3. the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency;

  4. they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved;

  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.

*Judgment authored by- Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan


Advocates who appeared in this case :

For the Appellant: Murtaza Fazl Ali, Advocate (Appointed by the Court);

For the Respondents: R. Ganapathy Iyer, Advocate

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