Criminal Law: SC Expounds on Doctrine of Last Seen Theory


May 02, 2018

Case name: Satpal Singh v. State of Haryana


Date of Judgment: May 01, 2018

In this case, the Two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court has fundamentally stated that the last seen theory as a facet of circumstantial evidence is a weak kind of evidence if conviction is to be solely based on it. However, if there are incriminating circumstances coupled with the last seen theory then the same is a corroborative evidence to implicate the accused.

In the case, the appellant was convicted for offence under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and has challenged his conviction.

The prosecution in the case while opposing the appeal mainly relied on the contention that the deceased was last seen with the Appellant the previous night and the dead body was found next morning in the vicinity of the area they were last seen together.

Moreover, in the case, disclosure by the appellant under Section 27 of the Evidence Act after his arrest also led to the recovery of the bicycle which deceased was riding the night earlier.

Bench’s Verdict

The Two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the case dismissed the appeal and also expounded on the doctrine of last seen theory. The Supreme Court made the following key observations with reference to doctrine of last seen theory:

  • That there is no eye witness in the case to the occurrence but only circumstances couple with the fact that the deceased had been last seen with the appellant.
  • That the criminal jurisprudence and plethora   of   judicial   precedents   leave   little   room   for reconsideration of the basic principles for invocation of the last seen theory as a facet of circumstantial evidence.
  • That last seen theory may be a weak kind of evidence by itself to found conviction upon the same singularly. But when it is coupled with other circumstances such as the time when the deceased was last seen with the accused, and the recovery of the corpse being in very close proximity of time, the accused owes explanation under   Section   106   of   the   Evidence   Act   with regard to the circumstances under which death may have taken place.
  • That in such cases, if the accused offers no explanation, or furnishes a wrong explanation, absconds then the motive   is   established,   and   there   is   corroborative evidence available forming a chain of circumstances leading to the only inference for guilt of the accused.
  • That if there be any doubt or break in the link of chain of circumstances, the benefit of doubt must go to the accused. Thus, each case will therefore have to be examined on its own facts for invocation of the doctrine.

The entire case can be accessed here.