The Supreme Court while hearing a criminal appeal has enumerated five golden principles which governs the case solely based on circumstantial evidence. In the instant appeal the Court acquitted the appellant/accused from the charges framed against him after holding that the instant case is entirely based on circumstantial evidence and therefore, the facts established by the prosecution do not rule out the existence of any other hypothesis. The facts established cannot be said to be consistent only with one hypothesis of the guilt of the appellant.
The Supreme Court while allowing the criminal appeal observed as under that when a case is resting on circumstantial evidence, if the accused fails to offer a reasonable explanation in discharge of burden placed on him by virtue of Section 106 of the Evidence Act, such a failure may provide an additional link to the chain of circumstances.
In a case governed by circumstantial evidence, if the chain of circumstances which is required to be established by the prosecution is not established, the failure of the accused to discharge the burden under Section 106 of the Evidence Act is not relevant at all. When the chain is not complete, falsity of the defence is no ground to convict the accused.
The Court also observed that solely on the basis of post-mortem report, the appellant could not have been convicted for the offences under Sections 302 and 201 of the IPC ( Balaji Gunthu Dhule )
The Prosecution Case:
The prosecution case is that on 18th November 2011, it was reported that the appellant’s wife died due to burn injuries. On the basis of the information furnished by one Shri Mahesh Sah, Unnatural Death Case was registered on the same day.
On 18th November 2011, autopsy was done by PW No.9 Dr. Ashok Kumar Tiwari. According to the post-mortem report, the cause of death was ‘asphyxia due to pressure around neck by hand and blunt substance.
On the basis of the directions of a senior police officer, P.W.No.10 Shri Rajan Kumar Pandey registered First Information Report on 25th August 2012. At that time, he was posted as the Officer-in-Charge of Gobardhana Police Station, District West Champaran.
The First Information Report was registered for the offence punishable under section 302 of IPC. After the case was committed to the Court of Sessions, a charge under Section 201 of IPC was added. Charges for the offences punishable under Sections 302 and 201 of IPC were framed against the appellant.
Submissions made on behalf of Appellant:
Learned counsel appearing for the appellant-accused submitted that none of the witnesses except the official witnesses have supported the prosecution case and that the conviction of the appellant is based solely on the cause of death mentioned in the post-mortem report. He placed reliance on a decision of this Court in the case of Balaji Gunthu Dhule v. State of Maharashtra ((2012) 11 SCC 685) in support of his submissions.
He further submitted that the evidence of prosecution witnesses brings on record an important fact that when the incident constituting the alleged offence occurred, there were other members of the family of the appellant-accused present in the house. He submitted that the prosecution witnesses have deposed that the appellant and the deceased were leading a normal matrimonial life
Observations of the Court:
The Court referred to the Judgment of this Court in case titled Sharad Birdhichand Sarda vs. State of Maharashtra ((1984) 4 SCC 116) wherein the Court lays down five golden principles (Panchsheel) which governs the case based only on circumstantial evidence.
“153. A close analysis of this decision would show that the following conditions must be fulfilled before a case against an accused can be said to be fully established:
1. The circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established.
It may be noted here that this Court indicated that the circumstances concerned ‘must or should’ and not ‘may be’ established. There is not only a grammatical but a legal distinction between ‘may be proved’ and “must be or should be proved” as was held by this Court in Shivaji Sahabrao Bobade & Anr. v. State of Maharashtra (1984) 4 SCC 116 where the following observations were made: Certainly, it is a primary principle that the accused must be and not merely may be guilty before a court can convict and the mental distance between ‘may be’ and ‘must be’ is long and divides vague conjectures from sure conclusions.
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 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, and
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.”
The Court observed that other family members of the appellant were found present at the time of occurrence which shows that there could be other hypothesis which cannot be altogether excluded. The Court said that the facts established cannot be said to be consistent only with one hypothesis of the guilt of the appellant.
The Court further observed that Section 106 of the Evidence Act will apply to those cases where the prosecution has succeeded in establishing the facts from which a reasonable inference can be drawn regarding the existence of certain other facts which are within the special knowledge of the accused. When the accused fails to offer proper explanation about the existence of said other facts, the Court can always draw an appropriate inference.
The Court importantly said “In a case governed by circumstantial evidence, if the chain of circumstances which is required to be established by the prosecution is not established, the failure of the accused to discharge the burden under Section 106 of the Evidence Act is not relevant at all. When the chain is not complete, falsity of the defence is no ground to convict the accused.”
The Court placed reliance on case titled Balaji Gunthu Dhule wherein it was held that only on the basis of post-mortem report, the appellant could not have been convicted of the offence punishable under Section 302 of IPC and consequently for the offence punishable under Section 201 of IPC. The Court also said that the prosecution failed to provide explanation regarding the delay in registering First Information Report.
Ultimately, the Court set aside the judgment of the High Court and acquitted the appellant-accused from all the charges.