The Uttarakhand High Court has recently held that in a case depending largely upon circumstantial evidence, there is always a danger that conjecture or suspicion may take the place of legal proof. A Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Sanjaya Kumar Mishra and Justice Ramesh Chandra Khulbe noted that,
"The law is well settled that each and every incriminating circumstance must be clearly established by reliable and clinching evidence and the circumstances so proved must form a chain of events from which the only irresistible conclusion about the guilt of the accused can be safely drawn and no other hypothesis against the guilt is possible."
A criminal appeal was preferred against a judgment whereby the appellant has been convicted for offences punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. Moreover, he has been sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for life and a fine of Rs. 5,000/-. In default to pay the same, the accused was subjected to rigorous imprisonment for three months.
A written report was given with the averments that her father, a resident of the IIT Roorkee campus, had been killed by slitting his throat. Based on the report, a case was registered against unknown persons. The matter was investigated, and a charge sheet was submitted against the appellant.
After complying with Section 207 CrPC, the case was committed to the Court of Sessions. The sessions judge framed charges under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.
After examining the entire evidence on record, the Trial Court concluded that the prosecution had proved its case against the accused-appellant to the hilt. Accordingly, it proceeded to convict and sentence the accused-appellant as mentioned above.
The Court emphasized that the appellant was arrested in the prosecution's case, and he disclosed before the police that he had committed the crime. He got the murder weapon, and two mobile phones of the deceased were recovered. However, as per Section 26 of the Evidence Act, there is no statement of the appellant recorded by the Investigating Officer. As no disclosure statement under Section 26 was recorded, the Court noted that the recovery becomes doubtful under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act. As per Section 8 of the Evidence Act, such evidence is only to be relied on if such conduct influences or is influenced by any fact in an issue or relevant fact. However, the Court noted that there is no evidence to show that the bloodstains on the knife or the mobile phones were related to the deceased.
The Court relied on the case of Padam Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, where it was held that the presumption of innocence with which the accused starts continues right through until he is held guilty by the final Court of Appeal and that presumption is neither strengthened by an acquittal nor weakened by a conviction in the trial court.
It also referred to the case of Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra, where the Supreme Court laid down five golden principles of appreciation of evidence in a case based only on circumstantial evidence. They are:
a. the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt should be drawn should be fully established. The circumstances concerned "must" or "should" and not "maybe" established;
b. 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;
c. the circumstances should be conclusive and tendency;
d. they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved; and
e. there must be a chain of evidence so complete as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the accused's innocence and must show that in all human probability, the act must have been done by the accused.
The Court observed that the most important aspect of circumstantial evidence is that the circumstance from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn, should be fully established. It emphasized that the Supreme Court had further held that the circumstance concerned 'must or should' and 'not' 'may be established. Therefore, the prosecution, in a case based entirely on circumstantial evidence, must establish the circumstance conclusively.
The Court observed that there is no evidence on record to suggest that those two mobile phones were related to the deceased. Moreover, although, as per the FSL report, blood was found on the knife, it has not been proved by the prosecution by adducing any cogent or reliable evidence that the blood found on the knife was related to the deceased.
Noting that the appellant is not named in the FIR, there is no motive alleged against the appellant, no eye-witness of the scene, and no disclosure statement was recorded. The Court found that the prosecution could not produce clinching evidence against the appellant.
Quashing the conviction, they noted that in the case based upon circumstantial evidence, if the chain of circumstances required by the prosecution is not established, the accused cannot be convicted in such a situation. The settled principles of the law suggest that in such a situation, the prosecution must place and prove all the necessary circumstances, which would constitute a complete chain without a snap and point to the hypothesis that except the accused, no one had committed the offence.
Case Title: Hidayat Ali v. the State of Uttarakhand
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Utt) 18
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