SC: Not discharging burden of proof can be a link in chain of circumstances

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 24th October 2019, in the matter of Rajender @ Rajesh @ Raju v. State (NCT of Delhi) pronounced that in cases resting on circumstantial evidence, if the accused fails to offer a reasonable explanation in discharge of the burden of proof placed on him, such failure by itself can provide an additional link in the chain of circumstances proved against him.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

Where the prosecution relies on circumstantial evidence to establish its case, such circumstances should be duly proved and the chain of circumstances so proved should be complete. This means that the chain formed must unerringly point towards the guilt of the accused and not leave any missing links for the accused to escape from the clutches of law. (Para 9)

With respect to conspiracy, it is trite law that the existence of three elements must be shown–a criminal object, a plan or a scheme embodying means to accomplish that object, and an agreement or understanding between two or more people to cooperate for the accomplishment of such object. (Para 9)

Testimony of a chance witness, though not necessarily false, is proverbially unsafe to rely upon. (Para 11.2)

A statement made by an accused under Section 313, Cr.P.C. can be used as an aid to lend credence to the evidence led by the prosecution. (Para 11.2)

The reasonableness of the explanation offered by the accused as to how and when he/she parted company with the deceased has a bearing on the effect of the last seen in a case. Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides that the burden of proof for any fact that is especially within the knowledge of a person lies upon such person. Thus, if a person is last seen with the deceased, he must offer an explanation as to how and when he parted company with the deceased. In other words, he must furnish an explanation that appears to the Court to be probable and satisfactory, and if he fails to offer such an explanation on the basis of facts within his special knowledge, the burden cast upon him under Section 106 is not discharged. (Para 11.2)

In cases resting on circumstantial evidence, if the accused fails to offer a reasonable explanation in discharge of the burden placed on him, such failure by itself can provide an additional link in the chain of circumstances proved against him. This, however, does not mean that Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act shifts the burden of proof of a criminal trial on the accused. Such burden always rests on the prosecution. Section 106 only lays down the rule that when the accused does not throw any light upon facts which are specially within his/her knowledge and which cannot support any theory or hypothesis compatible with his innocence, the Court can consider his failure to adduce an explanation as an additional link which completes the chain of incriminating circumstances. (Para 11.2)

A circumstance of last seen does not, by itself, necessarily lead to an inference that the accused committed the crime. There must be something more that establishes a connection between the accused and the crime. (Para 11.2)

An objection relating to the non-production of a certificate under Section 65-B(4) of the Indian Evidence Act relates to the mode and method of proof and cannot be raised at the appellate stage (Para 11.3)

If an objection as to the reliability of call records on account of non-compliance with the procedure under Section 65-B(4) of Indian Evidence Act is not raised at the time of marking of the records before the Trial Court, such records can be considered at the appellate stage even if such records are not in compliance with Section 65-B(4). (This inference has been drawn on the basis of Para 11.3)

If the scene of murder is rural, the Court should judge the matter after accounting for the rustic behavioural pattern of the witnesses and not adopt extremely sophisticated approaches familiar in courts based on unreal assumptions about human conduct. (This inference has been drawn on the basis of Para 11.5)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_24-Oct-2019

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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