Trending: Call for Papers Volume 4 | Issue 3: International Journal of Advanced Legal Research [ISSN: 2582-7340]

Circumstantial Evidence


Proof is the documents and materials provided to obtain a court decision or verdict by the prosecution and defence. Oral, documentary, actual, main, secondary, hearse, direct, and peripheral evidence may be the evidence. Proof bases the reasoning of one’s destiny; that a person’s guilt or innocence is determined by them. 

Circumstantial evidence is defined by Peter Murphy as “evidence from which the desired conclusion may be drawn but which requires the tribunal of fact not only to accept the evidence presented but also draw an inference from it.”
Circular evidence is referred to as indirect evidence. Direct evidence is favoured over circumstantial evidence as it needs no interference of any sort and is direct proof of an illegal act. Yet a decision should not be reached on the basis of circumstantial proof simply because the conclusion requires support to prove it in cases of extreme crime, such as murder for which the punishment is the death penalty.

Legal provisions involved

Section 106 of Indian Evidence Act 1872 states that – “Burden of proving fact especially within knowledge. —When any fact is especially within the knowledge of any person, the burden of proving that fact is upon him”

For example, if the wallet of the dead person was discovered in the house of the accused after his death, the burden of proof is on the accused to justify how he came into possession of the wallet of the dead person and why he did not commit murder. This is a case of the “last seen law” where it can be inferred that it is the perpetrator who committed the crime, merely because the victim has been seen. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that a belief is founded purely on it, but the burden of proof rests on the accused person in such situations.

Evidence means and includes-

(1) All representations that the court allows or needs witnesses to make before it in relation to matters of fact under investigation; such statements are referred to as oral evidence;
(2) All documents, including electronic records created for review by the court, are referred to as documentary evidence;
The definition of proof in this Act is very restrictive and there are only two instances in which this evidence falls before the court—
(1) The witness statements.
(2) Documents, including electronic documentation.

Circumstantial proof is clear evidence of a reality from which the presence or nonexistence of another fact may reasonably be inferred by an individual. If the testimony, though not clearly establishing guilt, gives rise to a presumption of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the guilt of a person for a charged crime can be proved by circumstantial proof. Circumstantial proof is evidence of conditions that can be counted on not as directly confirming a fact but as pointing to its presence instead. Circumstantial proof is primarily based on intuition and uses inductive reasoning.

Example of Circumstantial Evidence

X is suing his wife, Y, for a divorce, claiming she is having an affair with Z. Z’s fingerprints are found on a book in X and Y’s bedroom. A judge may infer that Z was in the bedroom. The fingerprints are circumstantial evidence of Z’s presence in the bedroom.

Circumstantial evidence- Complex

There is more nuanced circumstantial proof. The stabbing was not seen by a witness. The witness saw the defendant, holding a knife, going into the building. Within the home, the witness heard a scream and saw the defendant run out, not holding the knife. With a knife in her back, the victim is later found inside. A fair conclusion is that the victim was stabbed by the defendant. If the defendant is guilty, it will decide if the fact is valid.

Weight of circumstantial evidence

It is a common misconception that circumstantial evidence has less weight or meaning than direct proof. This is only valid in part. Although direct evidence is usually seen as more effective, circumstantial evidence relies heavily on most successful prosecutions. Circumstantial evidence also has an advantage over direct evidence because suppression or fabrication is more difficult. In terms of weight or significance, the law makes no distinction between circumstantial proof and direct evidence. Depending on the facts of the case, as the jury considers them to be, any form of evidence can be enough to determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In expressing picturization of the real event, the human agency may be deficient, but the conditions will not fail. Therefore, it is aptly said many times that “men can say lies, but conditions do not.”

Five golden principles of circumstantial evidence

In the case of Sharad v. Maharashtra State[i]
1) It is important to thoroughly determine the circumstances from which the inference of guilt is to be drawn.
2) the facts thus developed should be compatible only with the hypothesis of the defendant’s guilt, that is to say, under any other hypothesis they should not be explainable but that the defendant is guilty.
3) The circumstances should be of a conclusive nature with a propensity to point unerringly to the accused’s guilt.

4) All possible theories except the one to be proven should be omitted and

5) there must be a chain of evidence so complete that it does not leave any fair ground for the inference consistent with the innocence of the accused and must indicate that the accused must have done the act in all human likelihood.

Based on circumstantial evidence, these five golden principles form the panchsheel of a case’s proof.
Principle of circumstantial evidence as laid down by SC in the case of Shanti Devi v. Rajasthan State[ii]
“Principles may be set out as follows:
1. The conditions in which an intrusion of guilt is tried to be proven must be defined jointly or firmly.
2. The circumstances should have a strong propensity to point unerringly at the accused’s guilt.
3. The accumulated circumstances must form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the presumption that the accused or nobody else committed the crime with all human probability.
4. The circumstances should be incapable of justifying any logical hypothesis, in the same way as the accused’s guilt.

Burden of proof and circumstantial evidence[iii]

When dealing with circumstantial facts, it was held in Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra[iv] court held that the burden was on the prosecution to prove that the chain is complete and that the infirmity of lacuna in prosecution cannot be cured by false defense or plea. Before the prosecution may be founded on circumstantial proof, the requirements preceding, in the words of this Court, must be completely defined. (SCC, para 153, p. 185)

Circumstantial evidence & corroboration[v]

Circumstantial evidence is a set of information that can be used to infer a conclusion about something uncertain, when considered together. To support a hypothesis of a sequence of events, circumstantial evidence is used.

The sum total of numerous pieces of corroborating proof, each piece being circumstantial alone, provides a case to justify how a specific incident occurred. Corroboration is also offered in civil and criminal investigations by one or more expert witnesses who provide forensic evidence. Circumstantial evidence, backed by a large amount of corroborating evidence, is typically a hypothesis. Completely dependent on circumstances, the circumstantial proof is generally expected to be formed by the prosecutor only by means of corroborating circumstances surrounding the incident or offence and therefore considered, corroboration is an integral part of such evidence, i.e. circumstantial evidence.

Ujjagar Singh Vs. State of Punjab[vi] court held that Although determining circumstantial proof, it was held that whether or not a chain of evidence is full will depend on the facts of each case resulting from the evidence and no universal norm could ever be attempted.

Circumstantial Evidence: Soul Basis of Conviction[vii]

In the case of Ramawati Devi v. Bihar State[viii], it was held as follows:
The value or weight of the proof to be added to such a statement would necessarily depend on the facts and circumstances of each individual case. In an appropriate case, in the light of the facts and circumstances of the case, it may only be acceptable to convict a person on the basis of a dying argument.


We will find from the following facts and circumstances that circumstantial evidence plays an important role both during the investigative process and during the fact-finding test. It also helps to uncover the reason behind the crime or act. But this does not mean that the relevant facts of the case at all times are provided by circumstantial evidence. Therefore, we can conclude by stating that circumstantial proof gives us a general definition and fact of the case and that it can arrive at a definitive conclusion if it is adequately examined and checked. 


[i] Sharad v. Maharashtra State (AIR 1984 SC 1622)
[ii] Shanti Devi v. Rajasthan State [NO. 954 OF 2005 CRIMINAL APPEAL].
[iii] Diganth Raj Sehgal, All About Circumstantial Evidence, Ipleaders, 03 Nov. 20 (05:24 pm)
[iv] Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1984 SC 1622
[v] Uttara Roy, Circumstantial evidence, Lexlife, 02 November 2020 (10:12 am)
[vi] Ujjagar Singh Vs. State of Punjab(2007) 13 SCC
[vii] Anushka, Circumstantial Evidence, Lawtimesjournal, 03 Nov. 20 (11:34 am) http://lawtimesjournal.in/circumstantial-evidence/
[viii] Ramawati Devi v. Bihar State AIR 1983 SC 164, 1983 CriLJ 221, 1983 (1) Crimes 637 SC, 1983 (1) SCALE 1, (1983) 1 SCC 211 

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Author- Abhay Kumar, Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida

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