Benefit of reasonable doubt
In a criminal trial suspicion however grave cannot take the place of proof and the prosecution to succeed has to prove its case and establish the charge by adducing convincing evidence to ward off any reasonable doubt about the complicity of the accused. For this, the prosecution case has to be in the category of “must be true” and not “may be true”.
[Source: Khekh Ram vs. State of H.P., decided by SC on 10 November 2017]
A criminal trial is not like a fairy tale wherein one in free to give flight to one’s imagination and phantasm.
It concerns itself with the question as to whether the accused arraigned at the trial is guilty of the crime with which he is charged. Crime is an event in real life and is the product of interplay of different human emotions. In arriving at the conclusion about the guilt of the accused charged with the commission of a crime, the court has to judge the evidence by the yardstick of probabilities, its intrinsic worth and the animus of witnesses. Every case in the final analysis would have to depend upon’ its own facts. Although the benefit of every reasonable doubt should be given to the accused, the courts should not at the same time reject evidence which is ex facie trustworthy on grounds which are fanciful or in the nature of conjectures.
[Source: State of Punjab v. Jagir Singh, AIR 1973 SC 2407, 1974 SCR (1) 328]
Doubt against statutory presumption
Once those facts are shown by the prosecution to exist, the court can raise the statutory presumption and it would, in such an event, be for the accused to rebut the presumption. The onus even in such cases upon the accused is not as heavy as is normally upon the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused. If some material is brought on the record consistent with the innocence of the accused which may reasonably be true, even though it is not positively proved to be true, the accused would be entitled to acquittal. Leaving aside the cases of statutory presumptions, the onus is upon the prosecution to prove the different ingredients of the offence and unless it discharges that onus, the prosecution cannot succeed. The court may, of course, presume, as mentioned in section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, the existence of any fact which it thinks likely to have happened, regard being had to the common course of natural events, human conduct and public and private business. in their relation to the facts of the particular case. The illustrations mentioned in that section, though taken from different spheres of human activity, are not exhaustive. They are based upon human experience and have to be applied in the context of the facts of each case. The illustrations are merely examples of circumstances in which certain presumptions may be made. Other presumptions of a similar kind in similar circumstances can be made under the provisions of the section itself Whether or not a presumption can be drawn under the section in a particular case depends ultimately upon the facts and circumstances of each case. No hard and fast rule can be laid down. Human behaviour is so complex that room must be left for play in the joints. It is not possible to formulate a series of exact propositions and confine human behaviour within straitjackets. The raw material here is far too complex to be susceptible of precise and exact propositions for exactness here is a fake.
Another golden thread which runs through the web of the administration of justice in criminal cases is that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case, one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence, the view which is favourable to the accused should be adopted. This principle has a special relevance in cases wherein the guilt of the accused is sought to be established by circumstantial evidence. Rule has accordingly been laid down that unless the evidence adduced in the case is consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused and is inconsistent with that of his innocence, the court should refrain from recording a finding of guilt of the accused. It is also an accepted rule that in case the 73 5 court entertains reasonable doubt regarding the, guilt of the accused, the accused must have the benefit of that doubt. Of course, the doubt regarding the guilt of the accused should be reasonable : it is not the doubt of a mind which is either so vacillating that it is incapable of reaching a firm conclusion or so timid that it is hesitant and afraid to take things to their natural consequences. The rule regarding the benefit of doubt also does not warrant acquittal of the accused by resort to surmises, conjectures or fanciful considerations.
[Source: Kali Ram v. State of Himachal Pradesh, AIR 1973 SC 2773]
Suspicion is no proof
Suspicion, however grave it may be, cannot take the place of proof, and there is a large difference between something that `may be’ proved and `will be proved’. In a criminal trial, suspicion no matter how strong, cannot and must not be permitted to take place of proof. This is for the reason, that the mental distance between `may be’ and `must be’ is quite large and divides vague conjectures from sure conclusions. In a criminal case, the court has a duty to ensure that mere conjectures or suspicion do not take the place of legal proof. The large distance between `may be’ true and `must be’ true, must be covered by way of clear, cogent and unimpeachable evidence produced by the prosecution, before an accused is condemned as a convict, and the basic and golden rule must be applied. In such cases, while keeping in mind the distance between `may be’ true and `must be’ true, the court must maintain the vital distance between conjectures and sure conclusions to be arrived at, on the touchstone of dispassionate judicial scrutiny based upon a complete and comprehensive appreciation of all features of the case, as well as the quality and credibility of the evidence brought on record. The court must ensure, that miscarriage of justice is avoided and if the facts and circumstances of a case so demand, then the benefit of doubt must be given to the accused, keeping in mind that a reasonable doubt is not an imaginary, trivial or a merely probable doubt, but a fair doubt that is based upon reason and common sense.