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Last Seen Together Theory in Evidence Act

Updated: May 18


Last Seen Together Theory in Evidence Act


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Undestanding Last Seen Together in Evidence Act


The principle of "last seen alive" is invoked when the time interval between the last sighting of the accused and the deceased together, and the subsequent discovery of the deceased's death, is so brief that the possibility of any other person committing the murder becomes implausible.


Consequently, according to this principle, the individual last seen with the deceased bears the responsibility to elucidate the circumstances surrounding their parting.


In cases of "last seen together," the prosecution is relieved of the obligation to establish the precise sequence of events, as the accused possesses specialised knowledge of the incident and thus carries the burden of proof under Section 106 of the Evidence Act, 1872.


Therefore, "last seen together" in itself does not serve as conclusive evidence.


However, when considered in conjunction with other factors such as the relationship between the accused and the deceased, any animosity between them, prior history of hostility, recovery of a weapon from the accused, etc., the failure to account for the deceased's death may result in an inference of guilt.


Sur Singh Sidhu vs The State of Jharkhand (2024)


In the case of Sur Singh Sidhu vs The State of Jharkhand (2024), the Jharkhand High Court overturned the conviction and sentence of a murder convict, emphasising that a conviction cannot be deemed just and appropriate solely based on uncorroborated last-seen evidence.


The division bench, consisting of Justice Subhash Chand and Ananda Sen, remarked, "The prosecution's case relies on circumstantial evidence, yet fails to establish a motive for the crime, neither in the FIR nor through evidence presented.


In cases reliant on circumstantial evidence, the motive assumes significance, and its absence casts doubt on the prosecution's case."


"The chain of circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution remains incomplete. In cases reliant on such evidence, every link in the chain must be present, leading to a single conclusion regarding the accused's guilt.


The circumstantial evidence must be unequivocal, ruling out all other hypotheses except the one to be proved," the bench further stated.


According to the prosecution, Jug Singh Sidhu, the informant, reported to the police that his mother was at home when Sur Singh Sidhu, the appellant, claimed his bull had died. Under this pretext, Sur Singh Sidhu persuaded his mother to leave the house with him, subsequently strangling her to death.


Allegedly, Jug Singh Sidhu arrived at the scene upon hearing his mother's screams, witnessing Sur Singh Sidhu fleeing after committing the murder. The villagers then brought the mother's body back to the house due to a lack of immediate transportation to inform the authorities.


The next day, Jug Singh Sidhu informed the village headman of the incident, alleging that a land dispute between the appellant and his mother led to the murder.


The appellant's counsel argued that the conviction rested primarily on the testimony of Jug Singh Sidhu and two other prosecution witnesses.


However, the counsel contended that the reliability of their testimonies was questionable, given their distant location from the actual crime scene, surrounded by bushes, making it improbable for them to witness the event.


In contrast, the Special Public Prosecutor representing the State countered the appellant's arguments, maintaining that the Trial Court's judgement was well-founded, supported by testimonies and medical evidence indicating throttling as the cause of death.


After careful consideration of the arguments and evidence, the Court concluded that the case relied solely on uncorroborated last-seen evidence. Consequently, the conviction could not be deemed just and proper.


Hence, the Court allowed the Criminal Appeal, holding that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.


Accordingly, the Court overturned the conviction and sentence, acquitting the appellant of all charges and directing his release, if not wanted in any other case.

 
 

R Sreenivasa vs State of Karnataka (2023)

In the case of R Sreenivasa vs State of Karnataka (2023), the Supreme Court highlighted that the 'last seen' theory can only be invoked when it is proven beyond reasonable doubt.


"The burden on the accused only arises once the 'last seen' theory is firmly established. However, in the present case, doubts linger regarding this very theory," the bench, comprising of Justices, remarked while acquitting the accused in a murder case.


Initially acquitted by the Trial Court, the accused was later convicted under Section 302 IPC following an appeal filed by the State of Karnataka.


The conviction primarily relied on the 'last seen' theory, asserting that the deceased was last seen in the company of the accused. According to the prosecution's account, on 03.01.2002, around 4:30 P.M., an unidentified male body was discovered in a field.


Subsequently, the body was identified, and the accusation levelled against the accused was that he had killed the deceased. Upon appellate review, the Apex Court observed that the evidence failed to definitively establish whether the deceased had indeed accompanied the accused before his demise.


"In this particular instance, given the absence of concrete evidence regarding the last sighting, coupled with a considerable time lapse between the alleged last seen incident and the discovery of the body, and the lack of other corroborative evidence, it cannot be conclusively inferred that the appellant is guilty," the court emphasised.


Furthermore, the court emphasised that in cases of acquittal, appellate courts must bear in mind the double presumption in favour of the accused. When multiple interpretations are plausible, the one favouring the accused should be favoured, the court reiterated.


State of U.P. v. Mahfooz Ansari (2022)


In the case of State of U.P. v. Mahfooz Ansari, the Allahabad High Court recently affirmed the acquittal of seven murder accused, citing significant time lapses between the last sighting of the accused and the deceased, inconsistencies in witness statements, delayed filing of the FIR, and lack of corroborating evidence.


The bench, comprising Justice Vivek Kumar Birla and Justice Vikas Budhwar, emphasised that the prosecution's case primarily relied on circumstantial evidence, with the absence of a clear motive for the crime.


The informant, Jai Prakash, alleged that his wife, Tabbasum (also known as Munni), was abducted and murdered by the accused due to their disapproval of their interfaith marriage.


The Court noted that Jai Prakash's delayed lodging of the FIR, coupled with contradictory statements and actions, raised doubts about the credibility of his testimony.


Additionally, the substantial gap between the alleged abduction and the discovery of the deceased's body undermined the last-seen evidence.


Furthermore, the Court highlighted discrepancies in the Call Detail Records (CDR), noting the prosecution's failure to provide a mandatory certification under Section 65-B(4) of the Indian Evidence Act for the acceptance of electronic evidence.


While acknowledging suspicions surrounding the accused, the Court stressed the necessity for a clear link between the accused and the crime. In this case, the inconsistencies in witness statements, coupled with the lack of concrete evidence, led the Court to conclude that the prosecution failed to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


Ultimately, the Court upheld the acquittal order, noting the demolition of the prosecution's case due to inconsistencies, lack of corroboration, and failure to establish a conclusive link between the accused and the crime.



Gautam Kamlakar Pardeshi and anr v The State of Maharashtra (2022)


In the case of Gautam Kamlakar Pardeshi and Anr v The State of Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court emphasised that the "last seen theory" alone, where the accused was the last person seen with the victim, is insufficient to establish guilt in the absence of a clear correlation with the victim's time of death.


The court stressed the necessity for the prosecution to establish both the time when the deceased was last seen with the accused and the time of death. Without proximity between these two events, the evidence cannot be considered sufficient to convict the accused.


A division bench, comprising Justices Sadhana Jadhav and Milind Jadhav, acquitted a 32-year-old man and a 19-year-old student accused of assaulting and killing a mentally ill man. The incident allegedly occurred in 2013, where the victim was purportedly beaten under the pretext of being offered food.


The appellants had purportedly confessed to disposing of the body in a well after the incident.


However, the High Court set aside their life imprisonment and fine under sections 302 and 201 of the Indian Penal Code, respectively, due to lack of corroborating evidence.


The court analysed the witness testimonies, including those of a panch witness regarding the recovery of the deceased's clothes and an eyewitness who claimed to have seen the victim with the accused last.


However, discrepancies and inconsistencies emerged during cross-examination, leading the court to question the reliability of the witness statements.


The court particularly discredited the recovery of clothes, as formal witnesses denied seeing the accused with the deceased.


Additionally, it highlighted the lack of identification of the victim and the absence of material evidence linking the accused to the crime.


Emphasising the importance of establishing the timing of the last sighting in relation to the victim's death, the court reiterated that the "last seen theory" alone is insufficient to establish guilt.


Proximity between the last sighting and the time of death must be established by the prosecution.


The court upheld the principle that the prosecution bears the burden of proving not only the last sighting but also the timing of death to establish the accused's involvement in the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

 
 

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