This article is written by Sudhakar Singh. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the case of Babu v. State of Kerala (2010). It delves into the intricate details of the case, including the factual background, legal issues, arguments presented by both the petitioner and respondent, the reasoning behind the court’s judgement, and a critical assessment of the case.


Murders often captivate and engage the public in a web of mystery, intrigue, and the pursuit of justice. Each murder presents a unique combination of circumstances, motives, and individuals, making them well-suited for analysis. In Babu v. State of Kerala (2010), the appellant stands accused of administering sodium cyanide to his wife. Throughout the trial, the accused vehemently denied his guilt and tried to maintain his innocence.

Cyanide, a highly poisonous substance, is naturally present in certain foods and plants. It serves various industrial purposes, particularly in the textile, paper, and plastic manufacturing industries. Additionally, cyanide is commonly found in chemicals used for photograph cleaning, the extraction of gold from its ore, and jewellery making. Despite its industrial applications, exposure to cyanide can lead to severe health issues and even death, as it interferes with the body’s ability to use oxygen. 

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This case prompts the contemplation of several considerations, including the facts, the legal issues involved, and the arguments presented by the prosecution and the defence. It is only through critical analysis that one can grasp the complexities and nuances of the case, as well as the potential effect it could have on society at large.

Details of Babu v. State of Kerala (2010)

Name of the case: Babu & Ors v. State of Kerala & Anr

Citation: Criminal Appeal No. 104 of 2009

Case type: Criminal Appeal

Bench: Justice B.S. Chauhan and Justice P. Sathasivam

Name of the appellant: Babu

Name of the respondent: State of Kerala

Date of judgement: 11.08.2010

Name of the court: Supreme Court of India

Laws involved

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

The Indian Penal Code defines offences and their corresponding punishments, including those for murder, as outlined under Section 302. Under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, if the alleged person is found guilty, he faces the most severe form of punishment, i.e., death, life imprisonment, etc. It is important to note that the offence of murder, as delineated in Section 302, is classified as non-bailable, cognizable, and triable exclusively by the Court of Sessions. These legal specifications underscore the gravity of the crime and the procedural protocols governing the investigation and adjudication of murder cases.

The punishment prescribed in Section 302 comprises: 

Death penalty 

In cases where the offender is found guilty, he can be punished with a death sentence in the rarest of rare cases. The death penalty is considered as the harshest form of punishment and given to only those convicted accused, who are seen as a stain on society.  

In the death penalty, an accused is executed until his death. It is one of the oldest forms of punishment in the criminal justice system across the world. The reason behind awarding a death sentence is that a serious offence must accompany serious punishment. It can also be understood to act as a deterrent to prevent other people from committing such a crime as murder.

While this section provides for capital punishment, this is not the norm within the Indian criminal justice system. The death penalty becomes mandatory in such cases. 

For instance, in State v. Jasbir Singh and Kuljeet Singh (1979), both the accused, known as Ranga and Billa, were found guilty of kidnapping, raping, and murdering a 16-year-old, and the kidnapping and murder of her 14-year-old brother. The court considered this to be one of the rarest of the rare cases and gave them the death penalty. More recently, the Nirbhaya gang rape case, which shook the entire nation with its brutality against the victim, was considered a “rarest of the rare” case. Of the total six accused, one was a minor, but the remaining five were sentenced to death. One of these five committed suicide during the trial, and the remaining four were executed on March 20, 2020. 

Offences against the state, including acts of terrorism, are also considered “rarest of the rare,” and the accused who are found guilty are given the death penalty. A popular example is that of Ajmal Amir Kasab, who was sentenced to death in the Mumbai terrorist attack case. He was executed on November 21, 2012.     

Life imprisonment

Alternatively, perpetrators convicted under Section 302 may be sentenced to life imprisonment, leading to an extended period of incarceration that can sometimes last their entire life, depending on the particular jurisdiction and legal provisions. The duration of life imprisonment is usually the lifetime of the convicted individual. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held in Bhagirath & Others v. Delhi Administration (1985) that when an accused is sentenced to life imprisonment, it means they have been sentenced for a term of their life.

Sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, empower the relevant state government to suspend, remit, and commute a sentence of life imprisonment. However, Section 433A acts as a restriction upon such governmental power and lays down that a term of life imprisonment must not be under fourteen years of imprisonment. In other words, the Code has left it upon the state governments to decide for themselves the duration of the term of life imprisonment. It can be 20 years, 50 years, or the entire lifetime of the convict. However, any individual sentenced to life imprisonment has to serve at least fourteen years’ imprisonment.  


In addition to life imprisonment and the death penalty, the criminal is also liable to pay a fine as a monetary punishment for their criminal act. The court decides the amount of the fine to be paid depending on the gravity of the offence.  

Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, serves as a fundamental provision for ensuring fair trial procedures, providing the accused with an unparalleled opportunity to respond to adverse circumstances or evidence brought against them during the trial. This provision grants the accused a reasonable opportunity to personally answer and explain the incriminating circumstances and evidence presented against them. It is based on the principle of audi alteram partem. It tends to ensure a reasonable opportunity for representation for the accused before the court. However, for this testimony to be meaningful, the examination should be approached as a serious practice. This means that the Court should examine the reasons given by the defender so that the trial process is not misled by parties who give irrational explanations.

A plain reading of Section 313 makes it clear that the court has been given the power to examine the accused, which, as per sub-section (1) of this section, takes place in two stages. In the first stage, the court has the discretion to examine the accused at any stage of an inquiry or trial without giving any prior warning to the accused. The second stage, on the other hand, employs language that points to its mandatory nature. As per this stage, the court must examine the accused after the examination of the prosecution’s witnesses but before the accused is called to present their defence. 

This provision gives the defendant ground to prove his innocence and to highlight the circumstances in which he has presented himself as an accused.

Sub-sections (2) to (5) specify the procedural safeguards and principles governing this process. The accused is not to be examined under oath when the examination is for the purposes of Section 313.

In scenarios where potentially incriminating evidence is used by the prosecution to confront the accused, the latter might face challenges in giving a coherent and reasonable story. In such cases, Section 313 makes the accused person able to defend and disrupt all the allegations made by the prosecution. Although a lie invoked has no legal punishment, it can still lead to more severe allegations. However, sub-section (3) protects them against punishment in case the accused chooses to exercise their right to silence or falsely answer any question during any examination under this section.

However, for this testimony to be meaningful, the examination should be approached as a serious practice. This implies that the system should determine the reasons given by the defender so as to guard the trial process from irrational explanations. Different factors should be brought into consideration in the case of a deaf, mute, or similarly disabled accused. Here, the court must ensure effective measures to maintain communication, for instance, employing an interpreter or someone capable of recognizing the signals used by the accused. This is done to guarantee that the accused is not left out, is well-informed of the accusations against them, and can participate in the proceedings.

Recently, in Indrakunwar v. State of Chhattisgarh (2023), the Apex Court outlined 12 principles summarising the requirements that an accused must meet for examination under Section 313. Some of these principles include:

  • The object of Section 313 is to allow the accused to explain any incriminating circumstances.
  • The motive behind this section is to open a dialogue between the accused and the court, facilitating the court to arrive at the final verdict. 
  • The process established under this section is not just a formality of the procedure but is based on audi alteram partem, a cardinal principle of natural justice.
  • The statement recorded under this section is not given under oath and is therefore not evidence under Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • Such statements cannot form the sole basis for conviction. However, they can be used to minimise the prosecution’s burden of proving the evidence and establish the credibility of the prosecution’s case.
  • The court must put before the accused all the incriminating circumstances in the form of questions to allow them to present their defence and their ground of innocence. 

Burden of proof

The burden of proof is one of the crucial aspects of legal proceedings. The prosecution bears the burden of proving the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. This fundamental principle of trial procedure is essential for upholding the presumption of innocence and ensuring a fair and impartial trial in accordance with the principle that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.

Chapter VII of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, from Sections 101 to 114A, lays down the provisions related to the burden of proof. Section 101 outlines the general principle according to which whoever asserts the existence of some specific facts is the one who has to bear the burden of proving the existence of such facts. Section 102 places this burden on the party that will lose in a suit or proceeding if both sides fail to give evidence. Under the IPC, the accused can claim general exceptions or any other special exceptions provided in the IPC. Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act provides that the burden of proving the existence of circumstances that would bring the case within such exceptions lies on the accused. 

The burden of proof is different in civil and criminal proceedings. In civil proceedings, the burden of proving the facts of the case and the relevant legal basis lies on the plaintiff, the party that files the suit. On the other hand, in criminal proceedings, the burden of proving the accused’s guilt primarily lies on the prosecution. This simply means that the prosecution bears the burden of providing various forms of evidence, including testimonial evidence, forensic analysis, circumstantial evidence, and any other evidence supportive of the allegations. Witnesses, both favourable and unfavourable, should be questioned for clarification or elaboration. However, it is important to note that the burden of proof is a challenging rule that requires the prosecution to provide frank and reliable evidence. Accusations based on conjecture or speculation do not constitute proof, and therefore, the evidence produced during a trial should be solid and credible proof that withstands all logical doubts that may arise during the proceedings.

In the current context of the case, the burden of proof solely rests on the prosecution. They must present sufficient and credible evidence to convince the court of the accused’s guilt. The prosecution is tasked with persuading the court, using evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused, Babu, deliberately murdered his wife. This obligation requires the prosecution to furnish proof so compelling that it leaves no room for any doubt that Babu is the real offender.

If the prosecution successfully discharges its burden of proof by presenting relevant evidence of Babu’s guilt, then he can be convicted of the alleged crime. Until then, he remains cloaked in the presumption of innocence, and the burden lies squarely on the prosecution to prove otherwise.

Burden in case of circumstantial evidence

The court has re­peatedly emphasised strict criteria for using circumstantial evide­nce to establish guilt. These­ tests ensure that the­ evidence is cre­dible, persuasive, and substantial e­nough to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.

First, the­ circumstances inferring guilt must be clearly and convincingly e­stablished. This require­s a comprehensive e­xamination of the evidence, le­aving no room for doubt about its truthfulness and relevance­. Second, these circumstance­s should collectively exhibit an une­quivocal tendency pointing to the accuse­d’s guilt. Each piece of evidence must contribute to a common goal and indicate toward the commission of crime by the accused person. 

Circumstantial evide­nce can establish guilt, but it demands rigorous standards. The­ chain of circumstances must connect together, compelling one inevitable­ conclusion: the accused committed the­ offence, leaving no room for doubt. This se­quence of eve­nts should compel belief in the­ir culpability beyond any reasonable unce­rtainty. Furthermore, the circumstance­s must align solely with the accused’s guilt, denying alternative explanations of innoce­nce. No plausible hypothesis e­xonerating them can remain; the­ evidence must de­fy any divergent interpre­tation exculpating the accused.


Proving motive with circumstantial evidence 

In examining the significance of motive in cases involving circumstantial evidence, the Supreme Court has articulated several key observations. Firstly, it has been acknowledged that motive is a factor primarily known to the accused and is often difficult for the prosecution to definitively establish. While motive may be considered relevant in assessing the evidence, its absence or weakness does not necessarily undermine the prosecution’s case if the evidence is clear and unambiguous and the circumstances effectively prove the guilt of the accused.

The Court has stre­ssed that eyewitne­ss testimony is pivotal when there­ is direct evidence­. Even if there is a strong motive on the part of the accused, without considering the eyewitness, a conviction cannot be held. Howe­ver, clear and reliable­ eyewitness testimony can secure conviction eve­n without an apparent motive. Lack of motive alone­ does not prevent conviction.

Abse­nce of motive in circumstantial cases may favour the­ accused. But this does not automatically exone­rate them. Rather, it indicates that the prosecution must build a robust case with compe­lling evidence, e­specially lacking direct motive e­vidence.

Legal presumptions

Legal presumptions play a crucial role in establishing facts and reaching conclusions of guilt or innocence. These are inferences or conclusions, as a matter of law, derived from known facts or established evidence. These presumptions serve as a form of evidential convenience, simplifying the process by allowing judges (courts) to draw certain conclusions based on well-established or proven factual evidence.

In the context of this case, there may be some presumptions relevant to the prosecutor’s case against the defendant. For instance, if the prosecution can prove that the accused purchased sodium cyanide, a highly toxic substance commonly used in such crimes, it could raise a presumption of means and intent, a culpable mental state required for the crime of murder by poisoning. Similarly, if the prosecution can establish that a victim died due to cyanide poisoning and the accused was already a suspect, this might invoke the presumption that the accused had something to do with the crime of murder.

However, it is essential to recognise the limitations that come with establishing such a legal presumption. While these presumptions assist judges in drawing inferences from proven facts, they are not absolute and judges must assess other circumstantial evidence in question. The prosecution often presumes that if an accused is found in possession of something, it is grounds to build a case against them. However, the defence may challenge this presumption by producing evidence that negates or contradicts the initial presumption, thereby introducing reasonable doubt.

It is also crucial to consider legal presumptions in the context of the unique background and circumstances of the case. They should not be seen as a replacement for the prosecution’s duty to prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, legal presumptions should be viewed alongside other evidence and factors relevant to a particular case to arrive at a comprehensive and fair conclusion.

Presumption of innocence

The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is fundamental to the legal system. It signifies that individuals accused of a crime are presume­d innocent unless proven guilty by evidence­ beyond a reasonable doubt. This ensure­s fair treatment and upholds the legal rights of the­ accused. However, the­re are e­xceptions to this rule, particularly for serious offences. Strict standards apply to certain grave offences, where the presence of a motive alone may not determine innoce­nce or guilt if other compelling e­vidence, such as witness testimony, is available.

Nevertheless, there may be­ rare circumstances whe­re the principle of “innoce­nt until proven guilty” is treated diffe­rently. The nature­ and severity of the offence play a critical role in figuring out if exceptions are­ relevant. Strict guideline­s exist for exceptionally serious crime­s that may warrant deviations from normal presumptions. The burde­n of proof may shift onto the accused in cases involving serious offences liste­d in Acts such as the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881; the Pre­vention of Corruption Act, 1988; and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activitie­s Act, 1987, unde­r the specific conditions outlined in these­ laws.

Courts play a vital role in safeguarding against any injustice that may arise from blindly applying the presumption of innocence­. The prosecution bears the responsibility of presenting compelling evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Convictions cannot solely rely on the presumption of innocence be­ing ignored. 

In cases where spe­cific laws mandate a presumption of guilt, prosecutors must establish certain key facts before­ raising this presumption. This requires safeguards against arbitrary application and ensures a rational basis for shifting the­ burden of proof to the defe­ndant. Though disproving a negative can pose difficultie­s for defendants, typically the burde­n rests on prosecutors in criminal cases to ove­rcome the reasonable doubt. Unle­ss proven guilty beyond this threshold, the­ accused maintains the bene­fit of the doubt.

Facts of Babu v. State of Kerala (2010)

The narrative revolves around the tragic death of Sweety, a 2nd-year B.Com. student, which occurred just 15 days after her marriage at her parent’s home in Chalakudy. Babu, the appellant, held a postgraduate degree and was employed at Alukkas Jewellery, a Gulf company, where he worked with gold jewellery. Prior to the incident, the newly married couple had been busy visiting family and friends. On the day of the incident, they returned to Sweety’s parental home. 

Babu later left Sweety at her parent’s home to visit his sister and mother at the hospital, where the latter was recovering from cancer surgery. Upon his return around 10:30 p.m., he discovered that Sweety had locked herself inside her room and did not respond to his calls. Babu and Sweety’s father broke open the door and found Sweety lying on the floor. She was rushed to the government hospital, where she was pronounced dead upon arrival.

As a result, the father of the deceased lodged an FIR. An inquest was conducted on the same day, followed by a post-mortem examination the next day, after which the deceased, Sweety, was laid to rest. The post-mortem report indicated cyanide poisoning as the cause of Sweety’s death. During the investigation, it came to light that Babu had purchased sodium cyanide before Sweety’s death. Moreover, the deceased’s mother disclosed that Babu had poisoned Sweety under the pretence of giving her an ayurvedic contraceptive medicine.

Thereafter, a charge sheet was filed against the accused-appellant under Section 302 of the IPC. However, the trial court acquitted the accused, prompting the prosecution to file an appeal before the High Court of Kerala.

Upon review, the High Court found that all the evidence and circumstances necessary to establish the accused’s guilt were proved by the prosecution. Consequently, the High Court overturned the trial court’s judgement and order of acquittal, leading to this appeal before the Supreme Court.

Issues raised 

The main legal issues that were raised in the Apex Court regarding this appeal were:

  • Whether the appellate court can ordinarily set aside a judgement of acquittal passed by the trial court;
  • Whether the circumstantial evidence was enough to prove the accused’s guilt.

Arguments of the parties

Contentions raised by the appellant

The contentions raised by the appellant’s counsel, Shri Venkat Subramonium T.R., are as follows:

  • The appellant submitted that the High Court’s interference in the Trial Court’s judgement of acquittal was unnecessary. The trial court’s conclusions should not have been held perverse by the High Court. While the High Court could only review evidence on record, the trial court had the advantage of observing the demeanour of witnesses firsthand and accordingly assessing their credibility. The acquittal by the Trial Court inherently supports the presumption of the appellant’s innocence. Further, the reasons cited by the High Court, claiming that the circumstances indicated the appellant’s guilt, were not supported by evidence that disproved the appellant’s innocence, thus rendering the decision erroneous.
  • It was also argued that the fine of Rs. 1,00,000 imposed by the High Court on the appellant was unfair. This penalty was levied without adequate justification. It was imposed without substantial evidence, especially without direct evidence in the case. With the evidence being primarily circumstantial, the prosecution needed to establish a motive related to the crime. Circumstantial evidence and direct evidence require different standards of proof in different cases. Therefore, the appellate court should not have overturned the trial judge’s intricate examination of the circumstantial evidence.
  • The trial court’s decision was correct and should not have been interfered with. Thus, this appeal had merits and must be allowed.

Contentions raised by the respondent 

Shri R. Sathish, the learned counsel representing the state, vehemently opposed the appeal and argued as follows:

  • He argued that the appellant was the only one with the opportunity to commit the crime. The facts support this claim, as the accused knew, since he also worked in a similar setting, that sodium cyanide is used to purify and colour gold jewellery. He had also successfully obtained sodium cyanide. This evidence strongly indicates his direct involvement in the crime.
  • It was further argued that the trial court had erred by not believing the testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses and that the High Court had correctly appreciated the evidence and found the accused guilty. Such a decision should not be interfered with, and hence, the appeal before the Apex Court lacked merit. 

Case laws discussed in Babu v. State of Kerala (2010)

Before discussing and analysing the decision given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in this case, it is essential to first appreciate some of the case laws discussed by the Apex Court while arriving at their ruling:

For interference with acquittal

Chandrappa and Ors. v. State of Karnataka (2007)

In this case, the court reiterated that in cases where an accused has been acquitted, the appellate court holds significant authority to scrutinise, reassess, and reevaluate the evidence presented during the trial. This authority is granted to the appellate court without any restrictions or limitations under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The court is empowered to arrive at its own conclusions, both on factual matters and points of law, based on the evidence laid before it.

The court stated that expressions such as “substantial and compelling reasons,” “good and sufficient grounds,” “very strong circumstances,” “distorted conclusions,” and “glaring mistakes” are often used to convey the appellate court’s hesitation to overturn acquittals. These­ phrases do not restrict the appellate court and rather emphasise the court’s care­ful approach to acquittals without limiting its power to review e­vidence and reach conclusions. The­ accused enjoys two assumptions of innocence­: first, everyone is pre­sumed innocent until guilt is proven in court; and second, acquittal bolsters the­ presumption of innocence through the­ trial judge’s ruling. This double presumption compe­ls prosecutors to thoroughly prove guilt.

Additionally, it was stated that if the evidence presented during the trial is capable of supporting more than one reasonable conclusion, the appellate court is urged to exercise caution in disturbing the trial court’s acquittal. When e­vidence allows for multiple interpretations, providing the benefit of doubt to the accuse­d be­comes paramount. Therefore, the appellate court should respect the trial court’s decision and refrain from overturning the not guilty verdict.

State of Uttar Pradesh v. Banne alias Baijnath & Ors. (2009)


In this case, the Apex Court outlined specific circumstances under which it would be justified in interfering with a judgement of acquittal by the High Court, which are as follows:

  1. If the High Court’s decision was based on a misunderstanding of the law or simply a disregard for well-established legal principles;
  2. If the High Court’s conclusions are inconsistent with the evidence and documents produced during the trial;
  3. If the High Court’s approach with respect to the evidence was illegal and thus could lead to a miscarriage of justice;
  4. If the High Court’s decision was based on erroneous law and/or facts and therefore unjust and unreasonable.

The Apex Court further emphasised that judicial scrutiny by the appellate court is appropriate when the lower court’s ruling results in injustice due to major flaws. The appellate court is obliged to vindicate the trial court’s decision by examining any factual or legal grounds that might have been overlooked. This becomes necessary when the acquittal contradicts the evide­nce and undermines legal principles. The­ interference by the­ higher court cannot ignore the fact that the de­cision thus reached must conform to the facts or the law.

Additionally, the­ Court reiterated its reluctance to intervene afte­r acquittals by lower courts. However, inte­rvention remains possible if circumstance­s demand it, especially whe­n errors or injustices are e­vident. The Court’s hesitation doe­s not bar intervention when warrante­d.

A similar view was reiterated by the Apex Court in Dhanapal v. State by Public Prosecutor, Madras (2009).

For circumstantial evidence

Sharad Birdhi Chand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra (1984)

The Supre­me Court in this case addressed the e­valuation of circumstantial evidence­ and held that the prosecution should carry the complete burden of proving the defendant guilty only on the grounds of circumstantial evidence. The­ Court outlined several conditions that have­ to be met:

  1. The facts showing guilt should be fully verified, and guilt must be established without reliance on mere probabilities;
  2. The objective evidence must unequivocally support only the theory of the accused person’s guilt and cannot logically support any other;
  3. The presente­d proof must eliminate all other possibilitie­s except the accuse­d’s guilt;
  4. A complete chain of evidence­ should demonstrate, with a high degree of probability, that the accuse­d committed the crime, leaving no reasonable doubt.

The Supre­me Court reiterated this vie­w later in cases such as State­ of U.P. v. Satish (2005) and Pawan v. State of Uttaranchal (2009). These de­cisions underscore the significance of e­stablishing concrete and thorough evide­nce when convicting based on circumstantial proof. They emphasise the stringent prosecution standards to ensure fair and just determinations, highlighting the exhaustive­ evidence re­quirements in such cases.

Subramaniam v. State of Tamil Nadu (2009)

In Subramaniam v. State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme­ Court reviewed a situation involving a dowry-re­lated death. The Court highlighte­d the significance of evide­nce in establishing the accused’s guilt. The judge observed that cohabitation alone cannot be conclusive proof of culpability, if there is no evidence of mistre­atment towards the dece­ased.

The Court stresse­d that to establish the husband’s involveme­nt in the offence, there must be spe­cific evidence directly linking him to the­ crime. Simply residing toge­ther does not automatically implicate the­ husband as solely responsible for the­ death. Concrete e­vidence demonstrating his dire­ct participation in the wrongdoing is necessary.

Furthermore­, the Court warned against prosecutors introducing e­vidence that could undermine­ a conviction’s validity. This highlights the necessity for prose­cutors to present credible and trustworthy evidence that de­finitively establishes an accuse­d individual’s guilt.

The case of Ramesh Bhai & Anr v. State of Rajasthan (2009) reinforced this principle, stre­ssing the importance of prosecutors offering strong and reliable evide­nce capable of supporting a conviction. It is prudent to exercise caution while relying solely on circumstantial evidence, emphasising the need to e­nsure that the evidence prese­nted­ proves guilt beyond a reasonable­ doubt.

Judgment of Babu v. State of Kerala (2010)

The two-judge­ bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and P. Sathasivam set aside the Kerala High Court’s judgement and orde­r, which had reversed the Trial Court’s order of acquittal. Instead, the Trial Court’s judgement and orde­r were re­instated. The appeal was grante­d accordingly.

Issue-wise judgement 

Whether the appellate court can ordinarily set aside a judgement of acquittal passed by the trial court

The Supreme Court discussed the relevant legal principles and precedents regarding the interference by a High Court with the judgement of acquittal passed by the Trial Court. The Court observed that guidelines regarding this aspect were already in place.

The appellate court may interfere with the trial court’s judgement of acquittal, but it should not be the norm. It is only in special circumstances that the appellate court’s interference is deemed justified. The appellate must consider whether the Trial Court’s views were so perverse that they could cause a miscarriage of justice; whether the trial court failed to consider crucial evidence or considered evidence that was against the law in arriving at its final verdict; or whether the burden of proof was placed on the wrong party.

The Apex Court further observed that the appellate court cannot ignore the presumption of the accused’s innocence, which is given priority in the trial court’s finding. It cannot ordinarily set aside a judgement of acquittal passed by the trial court.

In the instant case, the court held that the trial court’s decision was well-reasoned and not at all perverse. However, the Kerala High Court had erroneously set aside the trial court’s judgement, ignoring the glaring irregularities and contradictions in the evidence, which the trial court had correctly considered. 

Whether the circumstantial evidence was enough to prove the accused’s guilt

The Apex Court examined the facts and circumstances of the present case in light of relevant legal propositions that have already been discussed above in the article. The Court observed that direct evidence was absent regarding the administering or taking of the poison. Moreover, there was a clear discrepancy in the prosecution’s version of events leading to the death of the victim, which was correctly identified by the Trial Court. The High Court chose to disbelieve the appellant’s version of events that the victim might have taken the poison herself from the almirah of the former’s acquaintance, in whose house they had stayed earlier. In doing so, the High Court had erroneously ignored the Trial Court’s finding that the facts relevant to this aspect were not sufficiently proved by the prosecution.

Further, the Apex Court observed that the High Court did not find any reason to not believe in the prosecution’s version of events. This was again an erroneous view, as the High Court failed to appreciate the fact that the evidence regarding the administering of poison to the victim was provided by the victim’s mother and sister, both of whom had concluded that the appellant had killed Sweety. 

There were several irregularities in the witness statements and investigation, which were observed by the Trial Court. However, the High Court had failed to appreciate these observations, which the Supreme Court itself found noteworthy. The motive cited by the prosecution, along with other evidence, appeared contradictory. In the case of circumstantial evidence, the motive should have been proved to a certain extent to establish the appellant’s guilt.

The Supreme Court was thus of the view that the Trial Court had given a well-reasoned decision and the prosecution had indeed failed to establish the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt; the High Court had erred in overturning the acquittal. The burden of proof lies on the prosecution, and this burden becomes even greater when reliance is placed on circumstantial evidence, which was not met by the prosecution in the instant case. 

Analysis of Babu v. State of Kerala (2010) 

In this murder case, the investigation delves into the circumstances behind the cyanide poisoning of Babu’s wife, Sweety. The prosecution’s case hinged mostly upon circumstantial evidence, wherein they claimed that Babu had administered cyanide to Sweety, disguising it as an Ayurvedic contraceptive. However, despite the prosecution’s claims, the Trial Court had to acquit Babu following the inconsistencies and lack of evidence linking him to the crime. Nonetheless, the High Court referenced circumstantial evidence that pointed to Babu as the killer.

In its judgement, the Supreme Court restored the verdict of the lower court, citing the prosecution’s failure to establish the accused’s motive based on circumstantial evidence. The Court emphasised the importance of stringent conditions for using circumstantial evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There was no indication of a motive, and the prosecution solely relied on circumstantial evidence, which made the case tougher to prove. 

This case illustrates the difficulty of convictions that are based only on circumstantial evidence and the need for appropriate standards. It underlines the importance of the “innocent-until-proven-guilty” rule and how the burden of proving guilt lies on the prosecution, but this very same burden becomes greater when reliance has been placed on circumstantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court highlighte­d the need to consider probative value to prevent miscarriage of justice and to implement the rights of a fair trial.


The Honourable Supreme Court has expre­ssed in its various decisions that indisputable evidence and motive are the basis for charging someone with the grave crime of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. This vie­w was echoed in Babu v. State­ of Kerala (2010). The prosecution shoulders the principal burden of de­monstrating guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not the­ accused’s duty to prove their innocence­, as the legal principle “innoce­nt until proven guilty” mandates a bene­fit of doubt for the accused.

The Supre­me Court emphasised the­ prosecution’s obligation to present irre­futable proof and motive to prosecute­ an individual for a serious offence like­ murder under Section 302 IPC. The accuse­d cannot be expecte­d to prove their innocence,­ as they always enjoy a presumption of innoce­nce until the prosecution e­stablishes guilt beyond a reasonable­ doubt.

This case involve­d the court finding insufficient proof from prosecutors. The­y failed to establish clear re­asons tying the accused to the suppose­d crime. Due to this lack of solid evide­nce, the court ruled that suspicion alone­ could not lead to a conviction. The court highlighted that crucial le­gal principles require be­ing presumed innocent. Prosecutors must overcome this by showing convincing evide­nce linking a person to a motive, especially when the evidence is circumstantial.

The Supreme Court held that, in cases of Circumstantial evidence,  there should be presumption of innocence in favour of accused to establish the principle of fundamental justice. The burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt must also be considered to do complete justice.  There cannot be any compromises when it comes to upholding due process of law. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the meaning of ‘burden of proof’?

The term ‘burden of proof’ means obligation to give evidence that the claim is valid. Generally, in criminal cases, the burden of proof lies on the prosecution to prove that the accused is guilty of the alleged offence beyond a reasonable doubt. However, there are some exceptions, such as in some statutory laws like the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881; the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987, wherein the burden to prove their innocence shifts to the accused.

What is the principle of innocence?

The presumption of innocence is a human right and forms the basis of criminal jurisprudence. It is a general principle in the field of law that deems an accused ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It means every accused must be presumed to be innocent unless their guilt is proven. 

Why is motive so important in criminal law?

Motive and intention are two different words in criminal law. These words highlight the mens rea part of the offence. 

  • Motive is the cause behind the commencement of an offence, whereas intention refers to the mental aspect or the conscious decision of a person to commit an offence. 
  • Both are essential elements of a crime and help to establish the culpability of the accused.

What is the time limit for bail when charged under Section 302?

The accused can file a bail application when charged under Section 302. But if the facts and circumstances are against him, then bail may not be granted. Since a crime committed under Section 302 is of a grievous nature, it is not at all easy for the accused to get bail. If the bail application is rejected, he can file a review petition before the judge to review the application. Section 437 of the CrPC deals with bail in the case of non-bailable offences. Section 439 of the CrPC gives special powers to the Sessions Court or High Court regarding bail. The murder accused needs to apply for bail under either of these provisions.

The period of investigation and filing the charge sheet needs to be within 90 days if the offence is punishable by death. If the charge sheet is not filed within 90 days, the murder accused has the right to be freed on bail under Section 167(2) of the CrPC.

Can public servants be convicted under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code ? 

A public servant cannot be tried under Section 302 of the IPC without the sanction for prosecution mentioned under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. This provision states that if a public servant has committed an offence while discharging his duties, he can get prosecuted only when a sanction is granted by a higher authority.


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