Circumstantial Evidence: Role in Proving Certain Facts

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Circumstantial Evidence: Role in Proving Certain Facts

Written By: Khwahish Khurana


Evidence plays a major role in holding a person guilty or not guilty in a criminal act. Without sufficient proof, a person can’t be made liable for an act. Evidence helps the court to reach a decision. A judge’s decision is solely based on the evidence. But many times there isn’t any evidence that directly proves the guilt of a person or makes him not liable for an act and so in such cases the chain of circumstances is viewed by the court in order to reach a conclusion and pass a judgment.

Evidence : Meaning And Types

In simple words, evidence means proof. It is required to show something is true or not. Evidence is derived from the Latin term ‘evidential meaning ‘obvious’ In law, evidence or proof is one of the main bases to convict a person or set him free of a crime he may be accused of. Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act states what comes or is included as evidence in the court of law. Evidence can be of 2 types i.e direct evidence or indirect evidence.

Direct evidence could for example when someone clicks a picture of a crime or records a video of that incident. Such evidence is termed as direct evidence as it is direct in nature, doesn’t have to be analyzed and it strongly supports to prove that something is true or not.

Indirect evidence means and includes circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence on the other hand is indirect in nature and has to be analyzed in order to reach a conclusion. For example, a person says Mr. B died at his home. This dead body was found to be on the floor when the police reached his home.

They found that everything was at its place intact. The body was sent for postmortem and the following things got highlighted: first, two bullets were recovered from the deceased body and second, there were no struggle marks on the body or clothes. Now from this police can derive or analyze that the criminal was probably known to the deceased and that the murder took place because of mutual enmity. While investigating, police found out that the deceased had a major fight several months back with his neighbour.

In addition, they found that the neighbour has a similar type of gun as the bullets found in the deceased’s body. On interrogating the neighbour, he couldn’t justify where he was at the time of the deceased’s murder and his statements were mismatching his family’s statement.

Now here we can see that there aren’t enough direct evidence to prove the neighbour’s guilt but there is a lot of indirect i.e circumstantial evidence which are concluding that the murder could have been committed by the neighbour like mismatched statements, owns a similar bullet, and had a fight which shows motive.

Can A Person Be Convicted By Means Of Circumstantial Evidence?

In the case of Sharad Birdhichand v State of Maharashtra 1984, judges laid down 5 essential conditions which need to be fulfilled in order to convict a person by the means of circumstantial evidence where the question in front of the court was to hold a person guilty on the basis of circumstantial evidence or not. The facts of the case are as follows: The accused (Sharad) was married to the deceased (Manju).

The deceased sometime after her marriage got the knowledge of her husband’s extramarital affair. This made her depressed and she went to her home 2-3 times within 4 months of her marriage. She wrote letters to her sister and a friend about her situation. On 12th June 1982, she was found dead in her room on the bed.

The court found that there was no direct evidence in the case and the only last interaction of the deceased was with her husband (the accused). The doctor who declared Manju dead revealed that the accused wasn’t fearful or anxious when he came to his home.

It was also noted that the accused did not approach either of the two doctors who were present in the same building but went all the way to bring his family doctor home. The letters were written by Manju also showed how depressed she was and felt like an unpaid servant. But the prosecution highlighted that there were no injuries or struggle marks on the deceased’s body to prove that the poison was given to her by someone.

The question in front of the court was whether the letters written by the deceased could be considered a dying declaration under Sec 32 IPC and consider Manju’s death as a suicide. Held – the alleged accused was held not guilty and in this case, the court gave 5 conditions to make a person liable under circumstantial evidence :

  1. “The circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established.
  2. The facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused , that is to say they should not be explained on any other hypothesis except that the accused is guilty.
  3. The circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency.
  4. They should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved and,
  5. There must be a chain of evidence so complete as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion.”


Our Indian Justice system highly believes that “Let the hundred guilty be acquitted but one innocent should not be punished” and so circumstantial evidence isn’t the stronger evidence in comparison to the direct evidence as it doesn’t directly prove the guilt of a person.  Circumstantial or indirect evidence is in itself not enough to prove or hold someone guilty. The conditions stated by the court in Sharad Birdhichand v state of Maharashtra need to be fulfilled to make a person liable through the means of circumstantial evidence.

The postmortem report should clearly show the cause of the death. All the inferences should only point to the guilt of the accused and should not be directed towards 2 different things or people. Every doubtful hypothesis should be excluded except the one to be proved. And at last, there should be no reason to show that the accused could have been innocent.

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