Doctrine of Last Seen Together
The article ‘Doctrine of Last Seen Together’ broadly encompasses analysing the theory of last seen together in detail. The concept of circumstantial evidence stems from the fact that no direct evidence could be found in any case, so the court must rely on circumstantial evidence to decide. The last seen theory also follows the same lines as in some criminal cases, where there is no direct or concrete evidence as to how the crime was committed or who committed the crime, the last resort in solving the case is that circumstantial theory.
The last seen together theory is one where two people have been “seen together” and one is found alive and the other dead after a certain period. The last-seen theory may itself be bad evidence for the same belief. The last seen together principle is one of the last principles considered in determining the guilt of the accused. Once proven, the last seen doctrine shifts the burden of proof to the accused and puts on the duty to explain how the incident happened and what happened to the victim who was last seen with him.
According to this theory, if a person was last seen with the deceased immediately before his death or within a reasonable time after the death, during which no other person could intervene between them, he (the last person seen) can be assumed as the perpetrator of the crime. Thus, the burden of proof to disprove this fact shifts to him, and if he fails to provide a clear and adequate explanation of his innocence, the presumption is further strengthened.
Historically, the Law of Evidence can be described as a child of the legal system. Evidence, as the word implies, can be defined as the rules that determine the question in dispute in legal investigations. The Law of Evidence has global significance. The literal term Evidence means “evidence”, whether oral evidence, documentary evidence, circumstantial evidence, direct evidence, medical evidence or any relevant evidence admissible in court.
Circumstantial Evidence – In most criminal cases, direct evidence is difficult to find, then the whole case depends based on circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial Evidence means when all the evidence is connected to form a complete chain of events for the accused to be condemned. The chain of events established in this way must be beyond a reasonable doubt. Age Circumstances and evidence forming the chain must be proven individually and they must be direct evidence. Non-proofs are always direct and prima facie, which means a fact from which the existence of a disputed fact must be inferred and proven by direct evidence.
Doctrine of Last Seen Together
This theory is based on the principle of probability, cause and relationship because no fact occurs in isolation. This means that when an event occurs, other events will occur that are likely consequences of or related to the major event, either retrospectively or in the future. These conclusions or assumptions are made logically based on how a reasonable person would connect the dots in a given scenario.
This theory derives its meaning from Section 7 of the Indian Evidence Act, which is known as the “doctrine of inductive logic”, which states that if any occasion, cause or effect of an event lead to the circumstances in which it occurred or it made it possible for that thing to happen, then those facts are relevant. And in the last seen theory, who was last with the victim would also have a reasonable opportunity to commit the crime. Under Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, the court is authorized to assume the existence of certain facts related to natural events, human conduct, and public or private business if other facts supporting their existence have been established. This is a presumption of fact as per the aforementioned legal provision.
For example, if A was the last person seen with B immediately before his murder, A may be presumed to have murdered B under that theory because A had ample opportunity to commit the crime. However, that assumption is not considered conclusive evidence of a person’s guilt, and the accused can reject those assumptions.
It simply changes the duty of the person to prove their innocence, which is an exception in criminal law because the burden of proving the guilt of the accused is on the prosecution under the principle laid down in Woolmington v. Director of Public Prosecutions,  UKHL 1. In this case, the events that happened when he was last seen with the victim are within his knowledge alone, because that law is placed in Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, which places the evidence on a person knowing of that particular fact or circumstance. Although the last seen theory relieves the court of the burden of proving guilt, it is still weak evidence and must be supported by other factors, such as whether the person last seen with the deceased had a motive or even succeeded in doing so. for injury causing death.
In Jaswant Gir v. State of Punjab, (2005) 12 SCC 438 the Hon’ble Supreme Court said that in the absence of other connections to support the theory, it is not safe to convict on that theory alone. For example, when the old lady, who cannot walk on her own, was last seen with the deceased, the deceased died of multiple stab wounds. So, in this case, it is not reasonable to believe that the old woman committed the murder, so even if it is proven that she was last seen, it is not logical to convict her. Therefore, the last seen fact should also be supported by other factors in such a way that the circumstances are unmistakably decisive and convincingly prove the person’s guilt. The court must be attentive while deciding on such matters because even small detail can change the entire scenario of the case.
Burden of Proof in the Matter of Last Seen Together
In all criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove the involvement of the accused beyond any reasonable doubt. In a case where a man and a woman were last seen together, the deceased asked the children watching television to leave the room after a moment she locked the room. As soon as the children saw the smoke coming from the room, they broke down the door. From the above case, it can be concluded that no applicability of section 106 is found here. In Madho Singh v. State of Rajasthan, 2003(2) Crimes 111 SC, it was laid down that if there is no evidence of homicidal death, the accused can be convicted based on what was last seen together.
Evidentiary Value of Last Seen Together
Based on the evidence last seen together, only the conviction of the accused can be trusted although it depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. Some court is looking for other corroborating evidence, while some courts may rely only on last-seen evidence. In Jaswant Gir v. Punjab, Criminal Appeal No. 693 of 2004, the deceased was travelling in the vehicle with the accused. The body of the deceased was found in the culvert. The Supreme Court did not pass the order of conviction against the accused and thus acquitted him of all the charges. All the pieces of evidence in no possible way could be put together to convict the accused. So, in this case, the accused could not be convicted only based on last-seen evidence. This is generally assumed to be secondary evidence.
In the absence of primary or direct evidence and as an eyewitness, the person last seen with the person is presumed to be a dead murderer. The burden of proof shifts to the accused, who proves his innocence by submitting an alibi request. But it is not always true that the accused is guilty of the crime. In the absence of corroborating evidence, the accused is charged with a crime. For example – when the man X was last seen with Y on a lonely road and later Y was found dead and his body was placed in a well on that same road and there were sufficient reasons for X to kill Y, the burden of proof changes and now X has the burden of proving his innocence.
The Indian Evidence Act, of 1872 also says about this concept and theory. Supreme Court as needed adopted various rules in this regard from time to time depending on the facts and the situation of the case. The last seen together may be weak evidence by itself that the concept is not true all the time. But if other circumstances are related to time the accused must give explanations under Section 106 about the last sighting and recovery of the dead body. According to Indian Evidence Act. If the accused does not provide an adequate explanation or his alibi claim under Section 11 of the Indian Evidence Act and if the accused has no other evidence as proof of his innocence and the chain of circumstances is such that he is proven to be guilty, the accused is convicted for a crime. In case of any doubt or any break in the chain of evidence, the accused will definitely get benefits.
Importance of Circumstantial Evidence
According to the Indian Evidence Act, of 1872, the word “circumstantial evidence” is not used directly, but in Chapter 3, the definition of the word “proved” states that when the existence of a fact is so probable that a reasonable person would believe it to exist. then this fact is considered to be proven. This means that circumstantial evidence based on the logical conclusions of Indian law can be admitted. Direct evidence and circumstantial evidence have equal value if the entire chain of events together conclusively and unmistakably indicates the guilt of the accused. If there is any doubt that the accused is innocent or the chain of events is not complete, the benefit of the doubt is given to the accused because the law assumes that every person is innocent until proven guilty.
In Sudama Pandey v. State of Bihar, Appeal (crl.) 654-655 of 2000, certain guidelines were laid down for proving a case through circumstantial evidence:
- The existence of circumstances to conclude must be fully proven.
- All provable facts should support the hypothesis of the defendant’s guilt.
- The chain of events must be well-connected and complete to be conclusive.
- The circumstances should rule out any possibility of the defendant’s innocence.
Important Case Laws on Last Seen Together
In the State of Maharashtra v. Suresh, Appeal (Crl.) 1092-1093 of 1998, in this case, the accused has already been convicted of rape of an 8-year girl. While in jail, he met Sneha’s brother (in that case deceased). They became friends. After both were released from prison, the accused visited often Sneha’s house. Sneha was also called Gangu among her family members and loved ones. He met a little girl. He was only 4 years old. One day he went to her house. He took Gangu to a nearby shop and then to a farm where cotton and pulses were grown. There he raped and murdered a little girl and left her body right there. He was convicted for this child rape and murder because she was last seen with him and even others the circumstantial evidence was against him.
Rajendra Pralhadrao Wasnik v. State of Maharashtra, Criminal Appeal Nos.145-146 of 2011, another brutal and horrific incident Rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl. The dead girl’s name was Vandana. The accused took the deceased from her home to buy her cookies. Both the accused and the deceased disappeared and never returned. The accused was seen together with a girl near the bus stop. A day later, the girl’s naked body was found in the field. From then onwards with the pretext of last seen together and another chain of evidence, the accused was convicted. Although he claimed it was a false allegation, all the evidence pointed to his guilt.
Krishna Mahadevan Chavan v. State of Maharashtra, Criminal Appeal No. 726 of 2015: In Krishna Mahadev Chavan v. State of Maharashtra, it was held that even if the last-seen theory is established but when the totality of the facts are taken into account they create doubt, and conviction cannot be passed on the latter alone. In this case, since the circumstance of the crime of homicide was vague and unclear, the accused was acquitted because guilt could not be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
Digamber Vaishnav v. State of Chattisgarh, (Arising out of S.L.P. (Crl.) Nos.5530-5532 of 2015): In the case of Digamber Vaishnav and Anr. v. State of Chattisgarh, it was held that there should be reasonable proximity between the sighting of the person and the recovery of the body so that the needle can be directed to the person who was last seen with the dead body. And in this case, it was said that the mere fact that they were last seen together cannot be the only criterion to convict the accused. To convict the accused based on the last seen theory, both the last seen theory and all other circumstances disproving the innocence of the accused should be established.
The doctrine of Last Seen Together is a legal principle that allows the prosecution to raise a presumption of guilt based on the accused and the victim being seen together before a crime. However, it is not conclusive evidence and must be evaluated in conjunction with other evidence in the case to determine the accused’s guilt or innocence.
The weight and significance given to the doctrine of Last Seen Together can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific facts of the case. Courts consider other evidence, such as motive, opportunity, forensic evidence, witness testimony, and alibi, to evaluate the guilt or innocence of the accused.
Contributions from: R Shakthivel And Apurva Neel
 Aasthavyas, Circumstantial Evidence and The Doctrine of Last Seen, Available Here
 Doctrine of Last Seen Theory, Available Here
 Last Seen Theory under Indian Evidence Law, Available Here
 Last Seen Together Rules, Available Here
 Last Seen Theory under Evidence Act, Available Here