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

Dictum

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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CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE MUST BE IRRITABLE

The ascription of these injuries to the application of a stick, which was not produced, the size of which was not testified to or ascertained, and which was not acknowledged by the doctor P.W.1 as capable of causing the injuries is a serious misapplication of facts and miscarriage of justice. The chain of evidence necessary to lead irresistibly to the guilt of the appellant is not complete in this case. It may well be helpful to remind ourselves what circumstantial evidence is – Circumstantial evidence is as good as, sometimes better than any other sort of evidence, and what is meant by it is that there is a number of circumstances which are accepted so as to make a complete unbroken chain of evidence. If that is established to the satisfaction of the jury, they may well and properly act upon such circumstantial evidence.

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

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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 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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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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CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE REQUIRES PRECISION OF MATHEMATICS

It is true that there are cases in which circumstantial evidence may be the best evidence when it is capable of proving a proposition with the precision of mathematics but I am afraid this is not the case here. An inference of the guilt of the accused cannot be drawn from mere coincidences and suspicions as the learned trial Judge has done in this case. It is my view that the evidence in this case is very inadequate to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was guilty of the offence of murder.

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

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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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