Supreme Court’s Recent Verdict on Circumstantial Evidence


April 17, 2018

Case name: Navaneethakrishnan v. The State by Inspector of Police


Date of Judgement: April 16, 2018

In the case, the accused were apprehended and he confessed about committing the crime. Thereafter, charge sheet was filed in the Court of Judicial Magistrate and subsequently they were sentenced to undergo imprisonment for life with substantive sentences under the IPC.

The Appellant aggrieved by the order, approached the Supreme Court alleging that the Courts below failed to appreciate that the conviction cannot be based upon a retracted confession and it can be used only in support of other evidence.

In view of the facts and circumstances of the case, the Supreme Court Bench noted that the entire case was based on circumstantial evidence and there was no witness directly to speak about the occurrence.

The Supreme Court in the case has reiterated some essential principles governing Criminal Law in India and the same is being reproduced below:

Identification Parade of the accused- That it is a settled proposition of law that the identification parade of the accused before the court of law is not the only main and substantive piece of evidence, but it is only a corroborative piece of evidence[1].

Person last seen with the deceased- That it is a settled legal position that the law presumes that it is the person, who was last seen with the deceased, would have killed the deceased and the burden to rebut the same lies on the accused to prove that they had departed. Undoubtedly, the last seen theory is an important event in the chain of circumstances that would completely establish and/or could point to the guilt of the accused with some certainty. However, this evidence alone can’t discharge the burden of establishing the guilt of accused beyond reasonable doubt and requires corroboration.

Statements by Accused were Previous Statement- The Court noted that in the instant case, the accused contended that the statements given by them were previous statements made before the police and could not be relied upon by both the appellant-accused as well as the prosecution. The Apex Court stated that the information given by an accused person to a police officer leading to the discovery of a fact which may or may not prove incriminatory has been made admissible under Section 27 of the Evidence Act, 1872.

Section 27 of the Evidence Act provides for how much of information received from the accused may be proved.

Section 27 of the Evidence Act- The Court held that Section 27 of the Evidence Act is applicable only if the confessional statement leads to the discovery of some new fact. Hence, in the absence of any connecting link between the crime and the things recovered, there recovery on the behest of accused will not have any material bearing on the facts of the case.

Circumstantial Evidence leading to Conviction of accused

  • The Court stated 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.
  • 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. The court must satisfy itself that various circumstances in the chain of events must be such as to rule out a reasonable likelihood of the innocence of the accused.
  • That when the important link goes, the chain of circumstances gets snapped and the other circumstances cannot, in any manner, establish the guilt of the accused beyond all reasonable doubt.
  • That the Court has to be watchful and avoid the danger of allowing the suspicion to take the place of legal proof for sometimes, unconsciously it may happen to be a short step between moral certainty and legal proof.
  • That there is a long mental distance between “may be true” and “must be true” and the same divides conjectures from sure conclusions. The Court in mindful of caution by the settled principles of law and the decisions rendered by this Court that in a given case like this, where the prosecution rests on the circumstantial evidence, the prosecution must place and prove all the necessary circumstances, which would constitute a complete chain without a snap and pointing to the hypothesis that except the accused, no one had committed the offence, which in the present case, the prosecution has failed to prove[2].

In view of the aforesaid observations, the Supreme Court allowed the Appeal and observed that the statement which can be termed as confession which were given to the police officer while they were in custody would be hit by Section 26 of the Indian Evidence Act (confession by accused while in custody of police not to be proved against him) and only that part of the statement which led to the discovery of various materials would be permissible. Hence, in the absence of any other material evidence against the appellants-accused could not be convicted solely on the basis of evidence of last seen together with the deceased.

The entire case can be accessed here.

[1] Rafikul Alam & Others vs. The State of West Bengal 2008


[2] Reference can also be made to the case of Padala Veera Reddy vs. State of Andhra Pradesh and Others 1989 Supp. 2 SCC 706