Clinching Evidence is Must for Conviction

Mens rea (intention) and actus rues (action) are the two constituents of any crime as opposed to the mental state of the accused. The Supreme Court has, however, made it abundantly clear in some of the decisions that if the clinching circumstantial evidences are available to establish the intention of the accused to have committed the crime, the accused can be punished. This has been emphatically stated in the recent case of ‘Sukhpal Singh vs State of Punjab’.

The case, in brief, is that upon discovery of an unidentified body near a canal bank, the case was registered and upon investigation the petitioner along with another came to be charged with the offence of murder. The trial Court convicted the petitioner but acquitted the co-accused. The High Court has affirmed the conviction. In the Supreme Court, the petitioner contended that there was absolutely no motive for him to commit the murder. Needless to say, in a case of circumstantial evidence, motive assumes great significance. Absence of evidence of any motive is always fatal to the prosecution’s case. But in this case, it was found that the petitioner and his accomplish were last seen in the van which belonged to the deceased. This is besides the forensic evidence available which would also establish that this was a case of the murder committed by none other than the petitioner. as the forensic report would show that the bullet which was recovered from the body of the deceased was fired from the gun recovered from the petitioner. Recovery of the gun and also of empty and live cartridges lead to the definite conclusion. There was a fight between the deceased and the petitioner, going by the injuries noted in the post-mortem, which pointed to motive.

According to the brother-in-law of the deceased, he was owning a taxi and both accused approached him to take them to Amritsar but he was murdered the way and his body was thrown on the canal bank. The accused persons did not give any information about the deceased but when his body was found on the canal bank, it was established by the prosecution that the deceased was last seen with the accused persons only. One of the accused persons was admittedly working as a police officer and he was provided with the service revolver. It was recovered from the house of the petitioner. He had concealed the revolver as well as some empty and some live cartridges in an iron box in the store of his house, which was established from the statement of the investigating officer. A bullet was found to be lodged in the body of the deceased and as per the report of the Forensic Laboratory, it was the same bullet that was fired from the revolver recovered from the house of the Petitioner.

The petitioner, however, sought to set up the argument that he himself had surrendered the revolver when he was placed under suspension. But the petitioner has, at no stage, been able to establish that he was suspended first and then he surrendered the revolver and cartridges. If the petitioner had actually been suspended before the recovery of the revolver and the cartridges, it would not have been difficult for him to establish the same because it was the matter of the record. The Supreme Court ruled that ‘in the absence of the material to establish the case of suspension, we are not inclined to disturb the concurrent findings of the trial court as well as of the High Court, which is based on the evidence that there was a recovery of the gun along with two empty and three live cartridges. Furthermore, as already noticed, the evidence establishes that bullet found in the body of the deceased was from the service revolver of the petitioner. That apart, we have already found that there is ample evidence to show that the petitioner was last seen with deceased, a fact, which stood established on the basis of testimony of witnesses who have been found to be creditworthy by both courts.

There is no doubt that the ‘motive or intention’ matters most significant in the criminal cases particularly when the prosecution failes to establish the clinching circumstantial evidence. What, in fact, is the circumstantial evidence? An evidence that strongly suggests something but does not exactly prove it. It simply helps people draw inferences about a fact, or the events that took place. This type of evidence is, on its own, considered to be weak or ineffective, so it is used in conjunction with direct evidence in both criminal and civil cases. There are popular misconceptions surrounding the validity of circumstantial evidence, as many people believe it is not as convincing as direct evidence.

In reality, circumstantial evidence is an important tool used by prosecutors to convict people. Circumstantial evidence, which can be derived from a variety of sources, can be used to lay a foundation of belief, and backed up by the testimony of witnesses and direct evidence for credibility. Anything can be used as circumstantial evidence, so long as it helps create a picture of the incident or crime, leading the judge to a valid conclusion. Facts that do not necessarily prove the culpability of the accused, such as prior threats made to the victim, fingerprints found at the scene of the crime, testimony that a neighbour saw the accused in the neighbourhood, or the fact that the accused was the beneficiary of the victim’s life insurance policy, are all circumstantial evidence. Even in the absence of an eye witness to the crime, these pieces of evidence, when taken together, certainly lead to the conclusion of the guilt of the accused.

In the case of Chandmal v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court has held that in situations where the case is entirely based on the circumstantial evidence the three conditions have to be fulfilled. The first is that the circumstances on which we rely for the evidence must be established firmly. Second is that the circumstances have to be precise and they must point towards the guilt of the person who is accused and the third is that when all the circumstances taken as a whole, they must form a complete chain and there must be no loophole in the chain. It must indicate that the accused only could have committed the crime and nobody else could have done it. In another case of Sathya Narayan v. State it has been held that in certain cases it is possible where no direct evidence or eye witness is available, in such a situation the court can award conviction solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence if the following five principles are applied: “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 to say, they should not be explained 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 of the accused and must show that inconsistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability the act must have been done by the accused”.

In the high profile Arushi Talwar murder case the trial court had convicted her parents on the basis of the circumstantial evidence, which was, however, rejected by the High Court. The case is still sub-judice but the final decision has yet to come in this case from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has earlier settled, that in a case of circumstantial evidence motive has a major role to play for the conviction of the accused. When the prosecution fails to prove the motive, then the case against the accused will not sustain. But the Sukhpal Singh’s case, the Supreme Court has given utmost importance to the circumstantial evidence.

In the aforementioned case, the petitioner said that the entire story laid out by the prosecution was concocted to falsely implicate them. The dead body of the deceased was found on the canal bank which was about two kilometres away from the house of the deceased, and there was no eye-witness to the factum of the petitioner committing the murder. However, the Supreme Court said that the guilt of the accused person was proved beyond reasonable doubt and therefore, his conviction did not merit any interference. Thus, an accused can be convicted only on the basis of circumstantial evidences, even on the absence of motive, if they lead to conclusive proof of the guilt.