Reasonable doubt and benefit of doubt

If two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case, one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence, the view which is favorable to the accused should be adopted.

What is ‘reasonable doubt’ and what is ‘benefit of doubt’ ?
The general principle of criminal jurisprudence is that the prosecution has to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt and the benefit of every reasonable doubt should go to the accused.

The ‘reasonable doubt’ is one which occurs to a prudent and reasonable man.

The doubt which the law contemplates is certainly not that of a weak or unduly vacillating, capricious, indolent, drowsy or confused mind. It must be the doubt of the prudent man who is assumed to possess the capacity to ‘separate the chaff from the grain’. It is the doubt of a reasonable, astute and alert mind arrived at after due application of mind to every relevant circumstances of the case appearing from the evidence. It is not a doubt which occurs to a wavering mind.

It is this doubt which occurs to a reasonable man, has legal recognition in the field of criminal disputes.

Benefit of doubt:
The accused would be entitled to an acquittal because the prosecution has failed to discharge its special burden of eliminating doubts. The accused may have failed to prove his plea but he gets a benefit which, whether it is called the benefit of the exception pleaded or of doubt on the whole case, is available to him only because he has succeeded in throwing the existence of an ingredient of the offence into the region of reasonable doubt.

Reference: Section 105 of Evidence Act
Section105 – Burden of proving that case of accused comes within exceptions
When a person is accused of any offence, the burden of proving the existence of circumstances bringing the case within any of the General Exceptions in the Indian Penal Code, (45 of 1860) or within any special exception or proviso contained in any other part of the same Code, or in any law defining the offence, is upon him, and the Court shall presume the absence of such circumstances.
Illustrations
(a) A, accused of murder, alleges that, by reason of unsoundness of mind, he did not know the nature of the act.
The burden of proof is on A.
(b) A, accused of murder, alleges that, by grave and sudden provocation, he was deprived of the power of self-control;
The burden of proof is on A.
(c) Section 325 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), provides that whoever, except in the case provided for by section 335, voluntarily causes grievous hurt, shall be subject to certain punishments.
A is charged with voluntarily causing grievous hurt under section 325.
The burden of proving the circumstances bringing the case under section 335 lies on A.

Test of preponderance of probabilities:
Section 3 of the Evidence Act by itself lays down that a fact is said to be proved when, after considering the matters before it, the Court considers its existence so probable that a prudent man ought, under the circumstances of the particular case, to act upon the supposition that it exists. This is what is meantby the ‘test of probabilities’ or the ‘preponderance of probabilities.’

Relevant case laws with excerpts:

Vijayee Singh and others Vs. State of U.P.
27. It can be argued that the concept of ‘reasonable doubt’ is vague in nature and the standard of ‘burden of proof contemplated under Section 105 should be somewhat specific, therefore, it is difficult to reconcile both. But the general principles of criminal jurisprudence, namely, that the prosecution has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt and that the accused is entitled to the benefit of a reasonable doubt, are to be borne in mind. The ‘reasonable doubt’ is one which occurs to a prudent and reasonable man. Section 3 while explaining the meaning of the words ‘proved’, ‘disproved’ and ‘not proved’ lays down the standard of proof, namely, about the existence or non-existence of the circumstances from the point of view of a prudent man. The Section is so worded as to provide for two conditions of mind, first, that in which a man feels absolutely certain of a fact, in other words, ‘believe it to exist’ and secondly in which though he may not feel absolutely certain of a fact, he thinks it so extremely probable that a prudent man would under the circumstances act on the assumption of its existence. The Act while adopting the requirement of the prudent man as an appropriate concrete standard by which to measure proof at the same time contemplates of giving full effect to be given to circumstances or condition of probability or improbability. It is this degree of certainty to be arrived where the circumstances before a fact can be said to be proved. A fact is said to be disproved when the Court believes that it does not exist or considers its non-existence so probable in the view of a prudent man and now we come to the third stage where in the view of a prudent man the fact is not proved i.e. neither proved nor disproved. It is this doubt which occurs to a reasonable man, has legal recognition in the field of criminal disputes. It is something different from moral conviction and it is also different from a suspicion. It is the result of a process of keen examination of the entire material on record by ‘a prudent man

Rishi Kesh Singh and Ors. Vs. The State
It is evident that the Supreme Court clearly expressed views which necessarily mean that the obligatory presumption is lifted when there is sufficient material on record to justify giving the benefit of a reasonable doubt to an accused even if the accused has failed to discharge his own burden of proving an exception by a preponderance of probabilities. In such cases, according to the view of the majority in Parbhoo’s case, the accused would be entitled to an acquittal because the prosecution has failed to discharge its special burden of eliminating doubts. The accused may have failed to prove his plea but he gets a benefit which, whether it is called the benefit of the exception pleaded or of doubt on the whole case, is available to him only because he has succeeded in throwing the existence of an ingredient of the offence into the region of reasonable doubt. there is a mens rea which makes the action complained of criminal or culpable. 139, the Privy Council adopted the rule, with regard to an alleged violation of Rule 81 (2) of Defence of India Rules, that ‘unless the statute, either clearly or by necessary implication rules out mens rea as a constituent part of a crime, a defendant should not be found guilty of an offence against the criminal law unless he has got a guilty mind’
59. The nature and extent of the evidence necessary to establish the Exception or proviso raised in defence has been considered in : 1964CriLJ472 (supra), : 1966CriLJ82 (supra) and : [1966]3SCR736 , (supra). It is thus a settled law that the burden of proof which lies on the accused by virtue of the provisions of Section 105 of the Evidence Act is not as heavy as on the prosecution to establish the guilt of the accused. The prosecution has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, while the accused has simply to disprove the absence or circumstances contemplated by the Exception, that is, to prove facts which would entitle him to the benefit of the Exception. The test of probabilities is to be applied in judging the defence plea. The accused has to establish his plea in the manner a plaintiff or defendant shall prove his case in a civil proceeding. It is thus the preponderance of probabilities which shall determine whether the defence plea has been established and the case falls or does not fall within one of the Exceptions contained in the Indian Penal Code. When the three expressions mentioned above are read together, there can be no difficulty in understanding the meaning of the term ‘preponderance of probability.’ However, in view of the fact that this question had been raised at the Bar, it is necessary to make a few observations.[para 58]

BY THE COURT
177. In accordance with the majority opinion, our answer to the question referred to this Full Bench is as follows:–
The majority decision in : AIR1941All402 is still good law. The accused person is entitled to be acquitted if upon a consideration of the evidence as a whole (including the evidence given in support of the plea of the general exception) a reasonable doubt is created in the mind of the Court about the guilt of the accused.

Vijayee Singh and others Vs. State of U.P.
37. In the case before us as per the evidence of the material witnesses the two deceased were only proceeding alongwith the rasta towards the pump set for taking bath. Even in the plea set up by Chirkut Singh, accused No. 6, it is not stated specifically that deceased Nos. 1 and 2 were armed with any deadly weapons. Therefore, the assailants had definitely exceeded the right of private defence when they went to the extent of intentionally shooting them to death by inflicting bullet injuries. Therefore, the offence committed by them would be one punishable under Section 304 Part 1 I.P.C.

Kali Ram v. State of H.P.  Reported at : 1974CriLJ1 wherein it was held:
Another golden thread which runs through the web of the administration of justice in criminal cases is that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case, one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence, the view which is favorable to the accused should be adopted. This principle has a special relevance in cases wherein the guilt of the accused is sought to be established by circumstantial evidence. Rule has accordingly been laid down that unless the evidence adduced in the case is consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused and is inconsistent with that of his innocence, the Court should refrain from recording a finding of guilt of the accused. It is also an accepted rule that in case the Court entertains reasonable doubt regarding the guilt of the accused, the accused must have thebenefit that doubt. Of course, the doubt regarding the guilt of the accused should be reasonable; it is not the doubt of a mind which is either so vacillating that it is incapable of reaching a firm conclusion or so timid that it is hesitant and afraid to take things to their natural consequences. The rule regarding the benefit of doubt also does not warrant acquittal of the accused by resort to surmises, conjectures or fanciful considerations. There has to be clear evidence of the guilt of the accused and in the absence of that it is not possible to record a finding of his guilt.

Chunni Lal @ Pappu Vs. The State (Delhi Administration)
In arriving at the conclusion about the guilt of the accused charged with the commission of a crime, the Court has to judge the evidence by the yardstick or probabilities, its intrinsic worth and the animus of witnesses. Every case in the final analysis would have to depend upon its own facts. Although the benefit of every reasonable doubt should be given to the accused, the courts should not at the same time reject evidence which is ex facie trustworthy on grounds which are fanciful or in the nature of conjectures.
16. In these circumstances, we find this to be a case where a reasonable doubt arises as to the guilt of the appellant. The conviction of the appellant, thereforee, deserves to be set aside by giving the appellant benefit of doubt.
17. The appeal is accordingly allowed giving benefit of doubt to the appellant. The appellant’s bail and surety bond shall stand discharged.

Bhag Singh Vs. Punjab and Sind Bank and Ors.
The evidence adduced in this case is not sufficient to come to a conclusion that the accused in this case have falsified the accounts and they have also forged the documents in order to commit offences charged against them. Therefore, the evidence on record is not conclusive to come to a conclusion that the accused are guilty of offences charged against them. Moreover, in this case a civil suit is pending for the realisation of the amount with respect to the supply of yarn, dyes and chemicals by virtue of the bills relied on by the prosecution. In the light of the pendency of the suit a genuine doubt is created in the mind of this court as to whether the offences charged against the accused is real. So, benefit of doubt arisen out of the evidence adduced in this case will certainly go to the accused.’

Krishna @ Chandrakanth Vs. State
Para 72. The doctrine of benefit of doubt cannot hence be applied and at this juncture the circumstance cannot be thrown overboard.
Para 93. Whoever had caused the injuries found on the person of the deceased in Ext.P6 must certainly be assumed to have intended to cause the death of the deceased. Forcible removal of Mos.1 and 2 from the possession of the deceased is also convincingly indicated by the totality of circumstances. Conviction entered against the appellant under Sections 302 and 395 is thus perfectly justified. The sentences imposed are also fair, just reasonable and modest. No appellate interference on any count is therefore warranted.
94. In the result:
a) This appeal is dismissed;b) The impugned judgment is upheld in all respects.

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