Unsafe to sustain conviction on circumstantial evidence when chain incomplete: Supreme Court

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"The presumption of innocence is in favour of the accused and when doubts emanate, the benefit accrues to the accused, and not the prosecution," the court said

The Supreme Court has on September 6 set aside a Karnataka High Court's judgement which held a man guilty of murder by reversing his acquittal by a trial court, holding that it would be unsafe to sustain the conviction of the appellant on such circumstantial evidence, where the chain is clearly incomplete. 

A bench of Justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah allowed an appeal filed by R Sreenivasa against the High Court's judgement of October 20, 2010, convicting him of killing one Krishnappa in January, 2002, by discarding the reliance upon the circumstantial evidences, including of the last seen theory.

The trial court at Bengaluru acquitted the appellant and another accused of the charge, holding that the prosecution has failed to prove the evidence of last seen.

According to the prosecution, the motive of the offence was the deceased having developed intimacy with the appellant's sister. It was also alleged both the accused had poured petrol on the body of the deceased to destroy the evidence.

In his contention, the appellant pointed out according to the charge sheet, it was accused no 2 who had come to the house of the deceased and taken him away two days prior to the incident. He contended the evidence of last seen could not be relied upon on the basis of an extra judicial confession of a witness who had turned hostile during the trial. He also said the wife of the deceased deposed there was a cordial between him and her family so the theory of strong animosity got negated. He also submitted the wife of the deceased did not lodge when he was missing for two-three days.

Going by the records, the bench said the fact that there is "major discrepancy in the charge framed by the court and the statement of the witnesses". It noted that the specific allegation that A2 was the one who had taken away the deceased from his house, whereas during deposition the deceased’s wife and his brother have stated that it was the appellant who had taken away the deceased is enough to raise doubts with regard to the "veracity and authenticity of such statements". 

Furthermore, it pointed out the fact that the deceased, late at night, agreed to go to the house of the appellant, when seen in the backdrop of the allegation that there was strong animosity between the two, appears to be "highly improbable".

"These circumstances creating a doubt as to the appellant’s involvement in the crime attain more credence when gauged apropos the factum of the deceased being missing for more than two days, yet neither his wife nor his brother reported the deceased as missing. It does not appear that the deceased’s family took any steps to find out as to where the deceased had gone. The deceased’s wife has testified that relations between the parties were cordial, and has not hinted at animosity," the bench said.

The court thus concluded that in the present case, given that there is no definitive evidence of last seen as also the fact that there is a long time-gap between the alleged last seen and the recovery of the body, and in the absence of other corroborative pieces of evidence, it cannot be said that the chain of circumstances is so complete that the only inference that could be drawn is the guilt of the appellant.

Case Title: R Srinivasa Vs State of Karnataka