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

Dictum

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 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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COURTS ACCEPT CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE IN PROOF OF FACTS

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 VS DIRECT EVIDENCE

Circumstantial evidence usually is contrasted with direct evidence. By direct evidence as in this case, there must be the evidence of an eyewitness of the incident of murder. By circumstantial evidence it means indirect evidence or existence of some facts from which an inference of a true fact can be made. It is trite law that circumstantial evidence to lead to a conviction must point to one possibility only – that the offence was committed and that it was the accused who committed it. When such evidence is capable of two interpretations one against and the other in favour of the accused, then there is no proof beyond reasonable doubt.

– OMOBONIKE IGE, J.C.A. Etumionu v. AG Delta State (1994)

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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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CAUSE OF DEATH CAN BE INFERRED FROM CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE DEATH

In Adamu v. Kano Native Authority (1956) 1 F.S.C. 25 (1956) SCNLR 65 the Federal Supreme Court held that the Court could infer cause of death from the circumstances surrounding the death where there is lack of medical evidence. See also Ayinde v. The State (1972) 3 S.C. 153; Edim v. The State (1972) 4 S.C. 160; and The State v. Edohor (1975) 9-11 S.C. 69 in all these three cases, the body was not even found but this court held in each one that the fact of death was provable by circumstantial evidence. See also Essien v. The State (1984) 3 S.C. 14 where Bellow, J.S.C. (as he then was) observed:- “It is trite law that although medical evidence as to the cause of death is desirable, it is not essential in all cases of homicide. Where medical evidence is not available as to the cause of death, the court may infer the cause of death upon circumstantial evidence adduced before it.”

— Ogundare, JSC. Azu v State (1993) – SC. 131/1992

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WEAKNESS IN THE CHAIN OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE CANNOT LEAD TO A CONVICTION

What is a heavy blow? Was it a heavy blow with a fist, a plank, a stick, an iron, a rock, from a falling object, from a car, a motor cycle or what? There is no indication from the evidence on record. The absence of this vital link from the evidence of P.W. 1 goes to show the weakness in the chain of circumstantial evidence, which the learned trial judge regarded as strong. The chain of evidence was therefore not complete to link the crime with the stick allegedly held by the appellant when he decided to pursue the deceased. There is no evidence circumstantial or otherwise, which conclusively established that the injuries, which caused the death, was attributable to the application of the stick. Of course the stick was not described. Was it a big stick, a small stick, a thin stick; was it a strong or weak stick? There was no answer.

— Obaseki, JSC. Adie v. State (1980) – SC24/1978

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