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COURTS ACCEPT CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE IN PROOF OF FACTS

Dictum

The provisions of Section 149 of the Evidence Act enable a Court to accept circumstantial evidence in proof of facts in issue and in particular on proof of cause of death in criminal cases. This has become necessary because in criminal matters, the possibility of always proving the offence charged by direct and positive testimony of eye-witnesses is rare. It is therefore permitted under the provisions of the section to infer from facts proved, the other facts necessary to complete the elements of guilt or establish innocence.

– M.L. Garba JCA. Odogwu v. Vivian (2009) – CA/PH/345/05

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CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE THAT IS CAPABLE OF TWO INTERPRETATIONS CANNOT BE RELIED UPON

Oguntade, JSC while allowing the appeal in Cyriacus Ogidi v. State Ors. (2005) LPELR-2303 (A) (SC); (2005) 5 NWLR (Pt. 918) 286 Estated at page 30 as follows: “In the State v. Muhtari Kura (1975) 2 SC 83 and 89, this court decided that when circumstantial evidence is capable of two possible interpretations, one against and the other in favour of the accused then in that circumstance, there has been no proof beyond reasonable doubt. Circumstantial evidence to support a conviction in a criminal trial, especially murder must be cogent, complete and unequivocal. It must be compelling and must let lead to the irresistible conclusion that the prisoner and no one else is the murderer. The facts must be incompatible with innocence of the accused and incapable of explanation upon any other reasonable hypothesis than that of his guilt. Per Humphrey, J. in R. v. Taylor & 2 Ors. 21 Cr. App. 20.”

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CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE IS OFTEN THE BEST EVIDENCE

It is conceded that circumstantial evidence is very often the best evidence. It is said to be evidence of surrounding circumstances which by undesigned coincidence is capable of proving a proposition with the accuracy of mathematics. It is no derogation of evidence to say that it is circumstantial.

– Nnamani JSC. Lori v. State (1980)

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NATURE OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

“Under our criminal jurisprudence, circumstantial evidence is defined as evidence of surrounding circumstances which by undersigned coincidence is capable of proving a proposition with mathematical exactitude, and that where direct evidence is unavailable, circumstantial evidence which is cogent, compelling and pointing irresistibly and unequivocally to the guilt of the accused is admissible to sustain a conviction. Circumstantial evidence consists of various pieces of evidence which in themselves alone cannot ground conviction, but when put together can constitute a good solid case for the prosecution. Circumstantial evidence is as good as, and sometimes better than any other sort of evidence. See Ukorah v The State (1977) 4 SC (Reprint) page 111 (1977) LPELR 3345 (SC), Peter v The State (1997) 12 NWLR (pt 531) page 1, Adie v The State (1980) 1 – 2 SC page 116 (1980) LPELR – 176 (SC).”

— J.I. Okoro, JSC. State v Ifiok Sunday (2019) – SC.709/2013

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CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE MUST BE CAPABLE OF PROVING A PROPOSITION WITH THE ACCURACY OF MATHEMATICS

Speaking of circumstantial evidence, Lord Heward, CJ, said, inter alia: “… but circumstantial evidence is very often the best. It is evidence of surrounding circumstances which, by undesigned coincidence is capable of proving a proposition with the accuracy of mathematics. It is no derogation of evidence to say that it is circumstantial.” See R v. Taylor & Ors (1928) 21 CAR 20 at 21.

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CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE IS OFTEN THE BEST FORM OF EVIDENCE

Lord Hewart, Lord Chief Justice of England observed in P. L. Taylor & Ors. v. R. 21 Cr. App. R20 at p.21: It has been said that the evidence against the applicants is circumstantial: so it is but circumstantial evidence is very often the best. It is evidence of surrounding circumstances which, by undesigned coincidence is capable of proving a proposition with the accuracy of mathematics.

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CIRCUMSTANTIAL PIECE OF EVIDENCE MUST BE COGENT, COMPLETE, UNEQUIVOCAL

Pius Nweke v. The State (2001) 84 LRCN 482 at 506, was held: “To secure a conviction in a criminal trial, circumstantial piece or pieces of evidence must be cogent, complete and unequivocal. Such evidence must be too compelling and must lead to the irresistible conclusion that the accused and no one else committed the crime. Indeed, the facts must be incompatible with the innocence of the accused and incapable of explanation upon any other hypothesis than that of his guilt.” See the decision of this Court in Joseph Lori v. The State (1990) 8-11 SC 86 at 87. See also Iyaro v. The State (1988) 1 NWLR (pt.69) 256; Mbenu v. The State (1988) 3 NWLR (pt. 84) 615 at 630; Ukorah v. The State (supra); Adie v. The State (1990) 1-2 SC 11 at 22.

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