A person who commits a crime tries to lay their plot in secret. They execute it ruthlessly under the cover of secrecy or darkness. They quiet their victims altogether and do not leave any trail of evidence behind. In such instances, the main event will have to be reconstructed before the Court with the help of surrounding circumstances such as the cause or effects of the event. Circumstances sometimes have the same impact as direct evidence. When footprints are found on the sand, it is probable to infer that some person has gone that way and also from the structure of footprints it can be ascertained as to whether those are of human or bird or animal. So, we can say that Circumstantial evidence is that evidence relates to a series of facts other than the fact in the issue. Also, we can infer that circumstantial evidence assumes significance where direct evidence is lacking.
The most fundamental decision on circumstantial evidence is Hanuman Govind Nargundkar vs. State of M.P.1 This case was referred by SC in various decisions from time to time, for instance, in Tufail vs. State of UP (1969)2 and Ram Gopal vs. State of Maharastra (1972)3.
The Hanumant case laid down the 5 golden principles which constitute the panchsheel of the proof of a case based on circumstantial evidence. These 5 principles are as follows:
- Circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established.
- The fact so established should not be explainable on any other hypothesis except that the accused is guilty.
- The facts should be conclusive.
- The fact should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved.
- 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, this must have been done by the accused.
Can conviction be based solely on circumstantial evidence?
In Bodhraj vs. State of J&K (2002)4, the SC held that conviction can be based solely on circumstantial evidence but it should be tested by the touchstone of law relating to circumstantial evidence laid down by Supreme Court in the Hanumant Govind Nargundkar case.
What is the Importance of Circumstantial evidence in cases where there is/are no eyewitnesses?
In the case of Har Dayal vs. State of UP (1976), the SC sustained the conviction and death sentence of the accused for the murder of a child based on circumstantial evidence alone. There were no eyewitnesses to the fact of the murder but the circumstances had made the chain so complete that there was no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability, the child was kidnapped, murdered, and thrown into the well by none other but by the accused.
Similarly, in Dharam deo yadav vs. State of UP (2014)6, there was no eye witness and the entire case depended upon the circumstantial evidence.
Further, in Vijay Kumar vs. State of Rajasthan (2014)7, the Court held that in a case based on circumstantial evidence the settled law is that the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is drawn should be fully proved and such circumstances must be conclusive in nature. Moreover, all the circumstances should be complete and there should be no gap left in the chain of evidence.
Last seen theory:
In State of U.P. vs. P.V. Satish (2005)8, the SC has observed that the last seen theory comes into the picture where the time-gap between the point of time when the accused and the deceased were last seen alive and when the deceased is found dead is so less or small that the possibility of any person other than the accused being the culprit of the crime becomes impossible.
1 AIR 1952 SC.
2 3SCC 198.
3 4 SCC.
4 (2002) 8 SCC 45.
5 AIR 1976 SC 2055.
6 2014 (4) SCALE 730.
7 2014 (2) SCALE 387.
8 3 SCC 114.