An accused has a profound right not to be convicted of an offence which is not established by the evidential standard of proof “beyond reasonable doubt”

Reasonable Doubt:

Reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt; because everything relating to human affairs, and depending on moral evidence, is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction.[1]

In Krishnan and another v. State represented by Inspector of Police[2], it was held that the doubts would be called reasonable if they are free from a zest for abstract speculation. Law cannot afford any favourite other than truth and to constitute reasonable doubt, it must be free from an overemotional response. Doubts must be actual and substantial doubts as to the guilt of the accused persons arising from the evidence, or from the lack of it, as opposed to mere vague apprehensions. A reasonable doubt is not an imaginary, trivial or a merely possible doubt, but a fair doubt based upon reason and common sense. It must grow out of the evidence in the case. The same principle of re-iterated in Ramakant Rai Case[3].

In Indian criminal justice system, for recording guilt of the accused, it is not necessary that the prosecution should prove the case with absolute or mathematical certainty, but only beyond reasonable doubt. Criminal Courts, while examining whether any doubt is beyond reasonable doubt, may carry in their mind, some “residual doubt”, even though the Courts are convinced of the accused persons’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Residual Doubt:

‘Residual doubt’ is a mitigating circumstance, sometimes, used and urged before the Jury in the United States. In California v. Brown 479 U.S. 541, it was held that “Residual doubt” is not a fact about the defendant or the circumstances of the crime, but a lingering uncertainty about facts, a state of mind that exists somewhere between “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “absolute certainty”.

In between “reasonable doubt” and “absolute certainty”, a decision maker’s mind may wander possibly, in a given case, he may go for “absolute certainty” so as to award death sentence, short of that he may go for “beyond reasonable doubt”.[4]

[1] Commonwealth v. John W. Webster 5 Cush. 295, 320 (1850).

[2] Krishnan and another v. State represented by Inspector of Police (2003) 7 SCC 56.

[3] Ramakant Rai v. Madan Rai and others (2002)12 SCC 395.

[4] Ashok Debbarma v. State of Tripura, Crl App. No. 47-48/2013.

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