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WHERE NO DIRECT EVIDENCE, COURT WILL USE CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

Dictum

It is trite law that where, as in the present case, no direct evidence of an eyewitness to the commission of an offence is available, the court may infer from the facts proved the existence of other facts which logically and conclusively establish the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt. See Adepetu v. The State (1998) 9 NWLR (Pt.565) 185. Accordingly, when strong circumstantial evidence is led against an accused person in a criminal trial and this gives rise to the drawing of a presumption or inference irresistibly warranted by such evidence, the criminal court will not hesitate to draw such a presumption or inference so long as it is so cogent and compelling as to convince the jury that on no rational hypothesis other than the inference can the facts be accounted for. See Uwe Idighi Esai and others v. The State (1976) 11 SC 39; Peter Nwachukwu Eze v. The State (1976) 1 SC 125 etc. The onus is on the accused person to rebut the guilt based on circumstantial evidence but this is merely on the basis of preponderance of probabilities. See Michael Peter v. The State (1997) 12 NWLR (Pt.531) 1.

— Iguh, JSC. Adeniji v. State (2001) – SC. 210/1999

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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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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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THE CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE CAPABLE OF LEADING TO A CONVICTION

But the circumstantial evidence sufficient to support a conviction in a criminal trial, especially murder, must be cogent, complete and unequivocal. It must be compelling and must 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.

– Nnamani JSC. Lori v. State (1980)

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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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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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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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