In the cases depending highly upon circumstantial evidence, the conviction against the accused will sustain only if the court is satisfied that various circumstances in the chain of evidence is clearly established. The court has to be watchful and ensure that the conjecture and suspicion do not take the place of legal proof.
The conviction in such cases will sustain once the court is satisfied with three conditions — 1) the circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be drawn, must be cogently and firmly established; 2) those circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards the guilt of the accused and 3) the circumstances, taken cumulatively, should form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the accused and none else, and it should also be incapable of explanation on any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused.
In appeals filed before the Supreme Court, the appellants challenged the order of the sessions judge imposing death sentence which was affirmed by the High Court. The case of the prosecution is that the complainant was brother of the deceased and the police registered the FIR based on his complaint.
The victim was lying dead in his room and there was bleeding from his nose and mouth and marks of injuries on the neck. As per the post-mortem report, the cause of death was due to strangulation and was homicidal in nature. The police seized a shawl and other material from the place of occurrence. The prosecution examined several witnesses and also the appellants wherein the latter pleaded that they are innocent and have been falsely implicated in the offence.
After the case trial, the sessions court came to the conclusion that prosecution successfully proved beyond doubt that the appellants have committed robbery in the house of the deceased and committed murder, and sentenced them with capital punishment for the offence. When it was challenged, the High Court affirmed the order of the sessions court. Aggrieved with the same, the appellants moved the Apex Court for relief.
After hearing the case and perusing the material placed on record, the Supreme Court said that there can be no conviction on the basis of surmises and conjectures or suspicion howsoever grave it may be.
Strong suspicion, strong coincidences and grave doubt cannot take the place of legal proof.
The onus of the prosecution cannot be discharged by referring to very strong suspicion and the existence of highly suspicious factors to inculpate the accused nor falsity of defence could take the place of proof which the prosecution has to establish in order to succeed.
As for the present case, the prosecution mainly dependent on the testimony of the child witness. The evidence of a child witness must be evaluated carefully as the child may be swayed by what others tell him and he/she is an easy prey to tutoring.
Therefore, the evidence of a child witness must find adequate corroboration before it can be relied upon, the Court observed and said that the child witness who was aged about nine years, was not an eye-witness to the incident.
Her evidence is fraught with inconsistencies. None of the other witnesses have identified the appellants. Therefore, heavy reliance was placed on the testimony of the child witness. Besides, it was noticed that there was an unexplained delay in reporting the crime.
Further, the expert who examined the articles at the place of occurrence and found some finger prints, has not been examined. Even the stolen articles allegedly recovered, the same is unreliable where there is nothing on record to support the claim of theft or robbery from the scene of crime. In such circumstances, it is difficult to draw an inference that the appellants had committed the crime, the Apex Court noted.
The Supreme Court allowed the appeals by setting aside the order passed by the High Court and the sessions court, and acquitted the appellants-accused for the offences for which they were tried and ordered for their immediate release, unless required in any other case.