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Circumstantial Evidence Must Unerringly Infer Guilt For Conviction: Madras High Court Sets Aside Capital Punishment Of Rape & Murder Accused

Sebin James
27 Nov 2021 8:31 AM GMT
Circumstantial Evidence Must Unerringly Infer Guilt For Conviction: Madras High Court Sets Aside Capital Punishment Of Rape & Murder Accused
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In a rape and murder case that dates back to 2008, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court has reiterated the settled law on circumstantial evidence and the nature of inferences drawn therefrom for convicting an accused."In a case of circumstantial evidence, the Court may infer from available evidence, which may lead to prove the guilt of the accused and the Courts have to identify the...

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In a rape and murder case that dates back to 2008, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court has reiterated the settled law on circumstantial evidence and the nature of inferences drawn therefrom for convicting an accused.

"In a case of circumstantial evidence, the Court may infer from available evidence, which may lead to prove the guilt of the accused and the Courts have to identify the facts in the first place so as to fit the case within the parameters of a "Chain of Circumstances" and then find out the fact of the case and to see that there is a chain of events, which unerringly proving the guilty of the accused beyond reasonable doubt," a Division Bench of Justices V. Bharathidasan and J. Nisha Banu observed.

The Bench then proceeded to acquit the two men and set aside the sentence of capital punishment imposed on them by an Additional District and Sessions Judge in connection with the rape and murder of a widow.

"We are of the considered view that, the circumstances relied upon by the prosecution do not have definite tendency to unerringly point out the guilt of the accused and the appellants/A3 and A4 cannot be convicted based on the solitary circumstance of scientific evidence for the offences of committing rape and murder. In these circumstances, the accused are only entitled for acquittal," the Court ordered.

Background

The High Court was hearing a reference seeking confirmation of capital punishment along with an appeal preferred by the accused (A3 and A4) against the said conviction.

It was highlighted before the High Court that the trial court had acquitted similarly placed other two accused. The appellants, however, A3 and A4, were convicted on the charges of murder and rape based on scientific evidence before the court.

The Court noted that the conviction of appellants was based on two circumstances—  (i) finger prints lifted from the scene of occurrence tallied with the finger prints of A3 and (ii) the semen of A3 and A4 were found on the clothes of the deceased as per the DNA Test.

Findings

At the outset, the court expressed its reservations in blindly accepting such evidence as conclusive, especially in light of several discrepancies in the manner in which the evidence was collected and analysed by the police.

A3 had argued that the specimen fingerprints were not taken before the Judicial Magistrate which is in violation of Section 4 of the Identification of Prisoners Act.

The court relied on Sonvir v. State (NCT of Delhi) to clarify that a police officer need not obtain an order from a Magistrate for obtaining a specimen of fingerprints of the accused. However, in this case, even the investigating officer was not aware as to who had taken the fingerprints from the accused, the Court noted. Moreover, during the investigation, the original fingerprints were not collected and there were no explanations from the prosecution about how the originals were misplaced and then traced later, it added.

The court then analysed the DNA evidence presented by the prosecution.

The semen that is said to have found on the clothes of the deceased and the DNA profile built on such evidence became relevant only eight years after the alleged incident when the DNA profiles of both accused matched with the seminal stains on the clothes of the deceased.

According to the Division Bench, it was only in 2016 that blood samples were collected from the absconding accused, arrested in another crime unrelated to the current one. Again, there was no evidence to suggest that the clothes concerned were collected under any Mahazar or those material objects were sent to the Court under Form 95. The concerned Magistrate Court's official was not examined to show when those materials were received in the Court.

Relying on Pattu Rajan v. State of T.N, the Court noted:

"It is true that DNA test is scientifically accurate, but the probative value of DNA Test varies depending upon the facts and circumstances of each and every case. DNA evidence is also in the nature of an opinion as contemplated under Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act."

In this backdrop, the court also took note of the postmortem report that indicated no signs of rape though it was clearly an unnatural death. The court also observed that the doctor who conducted the post mortem was not examined during the trial.

Based on the above factors, the court observed in its judgment as follows:

"That apart, in the instant case, the other two similarly placed accused, namely, A1 and A2, also charged with rape and murder of deceased along with these two appellants, were acquitted by the trial Court. The stolen articles were said to have recovered from A1 and A2 alone, however, that was disbelieved by the Trial Court, and nothing was recovered from these two appellants. In those circumstances, we are of the opinion that, based on the scientific evidence alone, it is unsafe to convict the appellants/A3 and A4 for the offences of rape and murder."

The court relied on a catena of guidelines issued by the Apex Court and High Courts in similar cases.

Two prominent cases that deals with the application of circumstantial evidence to reach a conclusion, Hanumant v. State of M.P. [A.I.R. 1952 SC 343], and Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra [(1984) 4 SCC 116], were relied on by the court.

Based on these precedents, the court iterated that in a case based on circumstantial evidence, the following requisites must be met:

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

ii. The facts so established should be consistent with the hypothesis of guilt and the accused,

iii. The circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency;

iv. They should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved; and

v. 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; it must show that in all human probability the act must have been done by the accused.

The court added that the inference of guilt is usually drawn by establishing the case from its initiation to the point of commission and each factual link must ultimately be based on evidence of a fact or an inference.

Relying on Suresh v.State of Haryana, the bench stated that courts have to identify the facts in the first place so as to fit the case within the parameters of 'chain link theory' and then see whether the case is made out beyond reasonable doubt.

Accordingly, the court allowed the criminal appeals filed by the two accused and set aside the conviction that had come before the court in referred trial.

For the Accused A3 and A4, legal aid counsel A.Thiruvadi Kumar and Advocate G.Karuppasamy Pandian appeared respectively. Public Prosecutor Hasan Mohammed Jinnah appeared for the state, assisted by Advocate RMS Sethuraman, standing counsel for the state. 

Case Title: State Represented By Inspector Of Police v. Vasanthat Kumar @ Ganesan & Anr; Vasanthat Kumar @ Ganesan v. State Represented By The Inspector Of Police, & Rajesh @ Rajeshkanna v. State Represented By The Inspector of Police

Case No: R.T.(MD) No.1 of 2020; CRL.A (MD)Nos.319 and 323 of 2021

Click Here To Read/ Download Judgment



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