CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

By Geethu Hanna John 

I. Introduction

“Circumstantial evidences are a tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but of your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”[1]

                                                                                                             – Arthur Conar Doyle

Circumstantial evidences are used in both criminal as well as civil cases. In criminal cases, they are used to prove mens rea by directly establishing the guilt by giving rise to an inference of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In contrast, in civil cases, they are used to establish or deny liability. There is a diversified view of opinion that circumstantial evidences are unsubstantial, but it is far from the truth. It is a fact from which the speculations of the existence of another fact may be drawn. Direct evidence is where no inference is required. On the contrary,  circumstantial evidences are not subject to the eccentricities of human memory, bias, mistaken identification Etc. In this article, we are going to discuss the meaning of circumstantial evidences; it’s essentials, relevance and its distinction from direct evidences.

II. Historical Background of Evidence law

The corpus juris[2] is classified into substantive laws and adjective laws. The law of evidence comes under adjective law. It deals with rights ad procedures. The standard English meaning for evidence is “something legally submitted to a tribunal to ascertain the truth of a matter”[3].

Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act states that-

“evidence means and includes-

  • All statements which the court permits or requires to be made before it by witnesses in relation to matters of fact under inquiry such statement is called oral evidences.
  • All documents, including electronic records produced for the inspection of the court such documents are called documentary evidences.[4]

History of evidence can be studied by looking into the following periods-

  1. Ancient Hindu Period Dharmashastra gives the sources of evidences related to the law of evidence. The principle of every trial is to comprehend the truth. It states that the judge must use his mind to detach the fraudulence of a person like a doctor removes an iron piece from his patience’s body. The Vasishta identified three types of evidence such as documentary evidence or lekhya, witness or Saakshi and possession or bukhthi.
  2. Ancient Islamic Period – ‘Muslim Jurisprudence’ drafted by Abdul Rahim gives the sources of information about the law of evidence in the Islamic era. Mohammedan lawgivers use oral and documentary evidence. Oral evidences are further classified into direct and hearsay evidences.
  3. Modern/British era – the courts under the British rule, following the Royal Charter courts established in the city of Bombay, Calcutta and madras followed English rules of law of evidence. Britishers tried to codify the law of evidence.

Timeline of Codification of Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

  1. Britishers tried to codify the law of evidence in 1835, and eleven depictions were passed for the law of evidence, but they were inadequate.
  2. In the year 1868, under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Maye, a commission was set up to codify the law of evidences. However, the commission failed in drafting the law of evidence as they found it incongruous to Indian conditions.
  3. The work of codification was further relegated to Sir James Fitz Stephen in 1870. The draft of Stephen was assigned to elicit the opinion of the selected committee., high courts and members of the bar council. The draft was placed before the legislature and was enacted.
  4. The Indian Evidence Act was enacted on 1st September 1872.[5]

There are six hundred princely states in India before Independence, and all these states had their own law of evidences. Nevertheless, most of them followed the Indian evidence act of 1872. After the Independence, it became uniformly applicable to all the states of Union of India. 

III. Meaning of Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidences are also called ‘Indirect evidences’. It is that evidences which are offered to prove certain related circumstances from which the existence of the fact at issue may be inferred—for example, fingerprint, hair or blood of a person from the crime scene. However, indirect evidences, the truth is propounded directly without the need for any inference. Circumstantial evidences draw more than one explanations. It helps the investigators to look upon the inferences about a fact or the events that took place. It is crucial for the criminal and civil case where the direct evidence is lacking. They are not sufficient enough to prove the case. It has to accommodate direct evidences alongside to convict. 

Illustrations

Testimony or witness can be direct as well as circumstantial evidences.

Arun is a witness saying that he saw a stranger stabbing his friend Vicky and it is direct evidence. However, in contrast, Arun saw the stranger entering Vicky’s house, heard her screaming and saw the stranger coming out of the house with a bloody knife. The bloody knife is considered as circumstantial evidences because we cannot conclude that the stranger killed Vicky.

Forensic evidences are circumstantial evidences.

Lekha, the forensic scientist conducted ballistic tests on the firearm of the defendant and found that the bullets of the defendant’s firearm killed the victim. Nevertheless, it does not prove that the defendant fired the shot and killed the victim.

Civil courts use circumstantial evidences to manifest liability. 

The court held Arun liable for causing a road accident. Forensic science and forensic engineering proved the case. This was done by analyzing the circumstantial evidences like appraising the length of skid marks, effectual analysis of car and road condition throughout the accident and looking through the driver’s speed.

IV. Essential Ingredients of Circumstantial Evidences

There are five essential ingredients of circumstantial evidences. Sharad  Birdhi Chand Sarda v. State Of Maharashtra on 17th July, 1984,[6]gives the five principles of circumstantial evidences. They are as follows-

  1. The prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt should prove the guilt of the accused.
  2. Circumstances or the chain of events that lead to crime should be irreconcilable with the innocence of the accused.
  3. Chain of events must lead to the guilt of the accused.
  4. The circumstances or the chain of events must be absolute, and the infirmity of lacuna in prosecution cannot be restored by faulty defense/ plea.
  5. There should not be any existence of aperture that leads to no other conclusion or inference from the guilt of the accused can be professed.

Padala Veera Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh And Others And Others on 26 October,1989[7] also reiterate the five principles of circumstantial evidences-

  1. The circumstances or chain of events in which the conjecture of guilt is sought to draw must be eloquently and robustly established.
  2. The circumstances or chain of events must have a clear tendency to point out the guilt of the accused unerringly.
  3. The circumstances or chain of events should be accruing complete so that no escape from the conclusion that within all human expectations, the crime was committed by the accused.
  4. The circumstances or the chain of events must be incapable of clarification of any other supposition consistent with the guilt of the accused and inconsistent with the innocence of the accused.  

V. Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872

Section 106 states that-

“Burden of proving fact especially within knowledge. -When any fact is especially within the knowledge of any person, the burden of proving that fact lies upon him.”[8]

This section mainly deals with scrutinizing the onus of proving is mostly on accused or within his knowledge. It is applicable when the prima facie is against the accused. It does not extend into taking off the burden from the shoulders of the prosecution. The burden of proof is on the accused. It is an exception to Section 101 of Evidence Act. It states that,

“Burden of proof.-whoever desires any court to give judgment as to any legal right or liability depended on the existence of facts which he asserts, must prove that those facts exist. When a person is bound to prove the existence of any fact, it is said that the burden proof lies on that person”.[9]

In the case Rama Kanta Jain v. M.S. Jain And Others on 24 March 1999[10], the prosecution must succeed by significantly proving the incident s it claims. It cannot exploit the weakness of the defense. The court cannot develop new cases for prosecution, and on that account, the accused cannot be sentenced. This section is to assist the prosecution. In the case State Of Maharashtra vs Wasudeo Ramachandra Kaidalwar on 6 may 1981[11] , section 106 does not prove his innocence beyond all reasonable doubt but just bring out the prevalence of probability of the prosecution case.

VI. Kinds of Circumstantial Evidences

Many circumstantial evidences assist in proving a convict accused of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. They are as follows-

  1. Evidences that initiate motive.
  2. Evidences that give the accused the possibility to commit an offence.
  3. Evidences of the accused’s state of mind in the inception of the offence.
  4. Evidences of the equipment’s or items used by the accused to commit the crime.
  5. Evidences that prove the accused preparing for a crime.
  6. Evidences of identification such as DNA, fingerprint, mobile phone records Etc.
  7. Evidences of similar crimes committed by the accused associated with the current crime.
  8. Evidences that gives proves of the accused giving different versions of events associated with the crime.

Circumstantial evidences that assist in theft crimes-

  1. Fingerprints of the accused
  2. Facts which indicate that the accused is unable to explain the origin of a large amount of money he or she has.

Circumstantial evidences from a murder crime scene-

  1. The accused’s feelings about the victim like fierce despise towards the victim.
  2. The accused’s suspicious behavior after the occurrence of the crime.
  3. Evidences that prove the accused lied about his alibi.
  4. Evidences that prove the accused was present in the area where the crime happened.
  5. The defendant’s blood or DNA or hair on the body of the victim.

VII. The relevance of Circumstantial Evidences

The judiciary has not concluded that circumstantial evidences are entirely accountable for convicting or proving an accused innocent; it differs from case to case. The accused should be convicted or make that person guilt-free if it is beyond a reasonable doubt. The chain of events or the circumstances is not loopholes to convict any person without perusing it is beyond a reasonable doubt. The court can make the circumstantial evidences irrelevant if it fails to give proper elucidation or inference to the crime and if it is not beyond a reasonable doubt. For instance, a person with a bloody knife is standing before a person covered with blood. The court cannot conclude that the person standing caused the death of the person and proper examinations are necessary to discover the cause of the death of that person.

VIII. Comparison between Direct and Circumstantial Evidences

  • Direct evidences are evidences to the exact point in issue. In contrast, circumstantial evidences are related to the facts connected with the issue which may tell about the cause and effect that lead to the issue.
  • Direct evidences are the evidences which directly institute the commission of the offence whereas circumstantial evidences does so by putting circumstances which are alluring to the inference of guilty.
  • Direct evidences are also known as positive evidences, whereas circumstantial evidences are also known as presumptive evidences.
  • Example for direct evidence- A murdered B. C and D saw the incidence of murder and deposed before the court. A and B ‘s evidence is direct evidence. E

Example for circumstantial evidences- A was murdered, at 10-pm, in his farmhouse. B saw C coming from the house of A at 10-10:15 pm. With shredded blood knife in his hand, B gave the evidence that B and C seriously quarrelled on the day before the occurrence of murder. Z  police officer seized the shredded blood knife under the bed in the farmhouse of C. G-expert deposed that the blood of the deceased and shredded blood knife of B was one same. These chains of evidences are ‘circumstantial evidence.’

  • Direct evidences are supercilious to circumstantial evidences.
  • Direct evidences is what the witness witnessed the incident with their own eyes or heard with their ears, and perceived with their own eyes. In contrast, the circumstantial evidences should not only rely upon the suppositions to be drawn by the court, but it must be of such a nature so that lead to any other inference.
  • With the help of direct evidences, the court effortlessly and carefully concludes whereas the circumstantial evidences are surrogate direct evidences in the absence of direct evidences.
  • Direct evidences are secure than circumstantial evidence.
  • There are two possibilities of errors in direct evidences, such as the fault of the witness and dishonesty on the part of the witnesses. In contrast, the circumstantial evidences have three possibilities of errors such as fault of the witness, dishonesty on the part of the witnesses and inference from the fact proved may be fallacious.
  • In direct evidences, the witnesses can topple the evidence taking the oath and even then, there are chances of not telling the truth, whereas in circumstantial evidences is a series of fact. The correct inference can be derived from the chain of facts, the person may tell a lie, but the facts of the circumstances do not.

IX. Conclusion

The discussion above makes us think whether circumstantial evidences are a sole basis for conviction or not. They play an essential role in criminal cases. Direct evidences are more potent than circumstantial evidences, but circumstantial evidences are mostly relied upon by criminal prosecutors in proving the case. The advantage over direct evidence is that it cannot be easily fabricated or suppressed. The court can only convict a person if he or she is found guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.


[1]Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Boscombe Valley History, 1892

[2] Body of Law

[3] Jerry Norton,” Evidence”, Oct 27, 2011 : The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica

[4] Indian Evidence Act, 1872,

[5] Indian Evidence Act ,1872

[6] Sharad Birdhi Chand Sarda vs State Of Maharashtra, 1984 AIR 1622:1985 SCR (1) 88

[7] Padala Veera Reddy vs State Of Andhra Pradesh And Others, AIR 1990 SC 79 :1990 (1) UJ 137 SC

[8] Indian Evidence Act, 1872

[9] Indian Evidence Act, 1872

[10] Rama Kanta Jain vs M.S. Jain And Others, 1999 IIIAD Delhi 32: AIR 1999 Delhi 281, 1999 (50) DRJ 232: ILR 1999 Delhi 232

[11] State of Maharashtra vs Wasudeo Ramachandra Kaidalwar, 1981 AIR 1186: 1981 SCR (3) 675

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