New Delhi, May 28 (IANS) The mere fact that an accused absconded after an incident had taken place could not be interpreted as an act of a guilty mind, the Supreme Court Tuesday said.
"Mere abscondance of an accused does not lead to a firm conclusion of his guilty mind," said the apex court bench of Justice B.S. Chauhan and Justice Dipak Misra.
"An innocent man may also abscond in order to evade arrest, as in light of such a situation, such an action may be part of the natural conduct of the accused," the court said.
"Abscondance is in fact relevant evidence, but its evidentiary value depends upon the surrounding circumstances, and hence, the same must only be taken as a minor item in evidence for sustaining conviction," Justice Chauhan said.
The court said this while allowing an appeal by Sujit Biswas who had challenged April 23, 2010 order of the Guwahati High Court which rejected the death penalty reference and commuted it into life imprisonment with direction that he would not get any remission and would breathe his last in jail.
Biswas was convicted and awarded death sentence by the trial court Dec 21, 2009.
Sujit Biswas was convicted for killing a three-year girl who went missing from a puja pandal and later found in badly injured state. She succumbed to injuries in hospital.
The apex court noted that Biswas was convicted entirely on circumstantial evidence.
Going through the rival contentions, the court said that the "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 something that 'will be proved'".
In a criminal trial, 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," the court said.
"An adverse inference can be drawn against the accused only and only if the incriminating material stands fully established, and the accused is not able to furnish any explanation for the same," the court said.
The courts must ensure that miscarriage of justice was avoided, and if the facts and circumstances of a case so demanded, then the benefit of doubt must be given to the accused, the apex court said.
The court set aside the conviction and sentencing by the trial court and the high court and ordered the release of Biswas, who has already undergone six years imprisonment.