September,6,2015: The decision will make it even harder for the police to tie up the loose ends in murder cases.
In a judgment that could affect police investigation of murder cases, based entirely on circumstantial evidence, the Supreme Court has held that conviction cannot be based solely on the fact that the victim was last seen alive in the company of the accused, especially if a long time had elapsed between the sighting and the time of the murder.
The decision will make it even harder for the police to tie up the loose ends in murder cases based on circumstantial evidence without any eyewitness, as is the case in many sensational crimes.
A Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and R. Banumathi held that unless there was other definite evidence and motive, an accused could not be convicted merely on the fact that at some point he was spotted with the victim.
The ‘last seen’ theory, as it is called in legal parlance, is more brittle when there is a long time gap.
“Though the ‘last seen alive theory’ is an important link in the chain of circumstances that would point to the guilt of the accused with some certainty, it is well settled by this court that it is not prudent to base the conviction solely on the theory. The ‘last seen theory' should be applied taking into consideration the case of the prosecution in its entirety and keeping in mind the circumstances that precede and follow the point of being so last seen,” the judgment by Justice Banumathi observed.
Setting aside the conviction which was confirmed by High Court, the Apex Court said “In the absence of definite evidence that appellants and deceased were last seen together and when the time gap is long, it would be dangerous to come to the conclusion that the appellants are responsible for the murder”.
On September 4, the judgment set aside a Rajasthan High Court verdict of guilt and acquitted two persons in a 2001 murder case. Manoj was last seen in the company of the two accused — Nizam and Shafique — on January 23, 2001. He was carrying with him Rs.20,000. Three days later, his body was discovered in Maniya village.
Though the lower courts put the money carried by the victim as the motive for the murder, Justice Banumathi noted that the sum was not recovered from the accused to corroborate the prosecution claim. The Supreme Court held that there was no other motive to commit the murder. It said the prosecution should have dug deeper. It said mere lack of an apparent motive to commit the crime should not be a reason to throw away a case. “Even if the prosecution has not been able to prove the motive, that will not be a ground to throw away the case. Absence of proof of motive only demands careful scrutiny and deeper analysis of the evidence.”