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murder and death penalty - evidence and instances

Corpus delicti -:

In Rama Nand and Ors. v. State of Himachal Pradesh (1981) 1 SCC 511, this Court summed up the legal position on the subject as:

“....…….In other words, we would take it that the corpus delicti, i.e., the dead-body of the victim was not found in this case. But even on that assumption, the question remains whether the other circumstances established on record were sufficient to lead to the conclusion that within all human probability, she had been murdered by Rama Nand appellant? It is true that one of the essential ingredients of the offence of culpable homicide required to be proved by the prosecution is that the accused caused the death" of the person alleged to have been killed.

28. This means that before seeking to prove that the accused is the perpetrator of the murder, it must be established that homicidal death has been caused. Ordinarily, the recovery of the dead-body of the victim or a vital part of it, bearing marks of violence, is sufficient proof of homicidal death of the victim. There was a time when under the old English Law, the finding of the body of the deceased was held to be essential before a person was convicted of committing his culpable homicide. "I would never convict", said Sir Mathew Hale, "a person of murder or manslaughter unless the fact were proved to be done, or at least the body was found dead". This was merely a rule of caution, and not of law. But in those times when execution was the only punishment for murder, the need for adhering to this cautionary rule was greater. Discovery of the dead-body of the victim bearing physical evidence of violence, has never been considered as the only mode of proving the corpus delicti in murder. Indeed, very many cases are of such a nature where the discovery of the dead-body is impossible. A blind adherence to this old "body" doctrine would open the door wide open for many a heinous murderer to escape with impunity simply because they were cunning and clever enough to destroy the body of their victim. In the context of our law, Sir Hale's enunciation has to be interpreted no more than emphasising that where the dead-body of the victim in a murder case is not found, other cogent and satisfactory proof of the homicidal death of the victim must be adduced by the prosecution. Such proof may be by the direct ocular account of an eye-witness, or by circumstantial evidence, or by both. But where the fact of corpus delicti, i.e. 'homicidal death' is sought to be established by circumstantial evidence alone, the circumstances must be of a clinching and definitive character unerringly leading to the inference that the victim concerned has met a homicidal death. Even so, this principle of caution cannot be pushed too far as requiring absolute proof. Perfect proof is seldom to be had in this imperfect world, and absolute certainty is a myth. That is why under Section 3, Evidence Act, a fact is said to be "proved", if the Court considering the matters before it, considers its existence so probable that a prudent man ought, under the circumstances of the particular case, to act upon the supposition that it exists. The corpus delicti or the fact of homicidal death, therefore, can be proved by telling and inculpating circumstances which definitely lead to the conclusion that within all human probability, the victim has been murdered by the accused concerned….” (emphasis supplied)

To the same effect is the decision in Ram Chandra & Ram Bharosey v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1957 SC 381, where this Court said:

“It is true that in law a conviction for an offence does not necessarily depend upon the corpus delicti being found. There may be reliable evidence, direct or circumstantial, of the commission of the murder though the corpus delicti are not traceable.”

In Lakshmi and Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2002) 7 SCC 198 the legal position was reiterated thus :

“16. Undoubtedly, the identification of the body, cause of death and recovery of weapon with which the injury may have been inflicted on the deceased are some of the important factors to be established by the prosecution in an ordinary given case to bring home the charge of offence under Section 302 I.P.C. This, however, is not an inflexible rule. It cannot be held as a general and broad proposition of law that where these aspects are not established, it would be fatal to the case of the prosecution and in all cases and eventualities, it ought to result in the acquittal of those who may be charged with the offence of murder. It would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. A charge of murder may stand established against an accused even in absence of identification of the body and cause the death.”

Supreme Court of India

Rishi Pal vs State Of Uttarkhand on 8 January, 2013

In the absence of corpus delicti what the court looks for is clinching evidence that proves that the victim has been done to death. If the prosecution is successful in providing cogent and satisfactory proof of the victim having met a homicidal death, absence of corpus delicti will not by itself be fatal to a charge of murder. Failure of the prosecution to assemble such evidence will, however, result in failure of the most essential requirement in a case involving a charge of murder.