The Supreme Court of India recently overturned a murder conviction in a case involving the “last seen” theory. Learn about the legal principles applied and the burden of proof in such cases.

In a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of India, the conviction of R. Sreenivasa in a murder case was overturned. The case hinged on the “last seen” theory, a legal principle used to determine guilt in cases where the accused was the last person seen with the victim. Here’s a summary of the case and the key legal principles involved:


  • R. Sreenivasa was initially convicted of murder along with another individual by the Trial Court.
  • The prosecution’s case was based on the “last seen” theory, alleging that Sreenivasa was the last person seen with the deceased.

Trial Court Acquittal:

  • On June 9, 2005, the Trial Court acquitted Sreenivasa and the co-accused, finding insufficient evidence to prove their guilt.
  • The Trial Court cited the absence of proof that the deceased was last seen with the accused and the lack of an extra-judicial confession.

High Court Appeal:

  • The State of Karnataka filed an appeal before the High Court, challenging the acquittal.
  • The High Court reversed the Trial Court’s decision, relying on the “last seen” theory.

Supreme Court Ruling:

  • Sreenivasa appealed to the Supreme Court, contesting the High Court’s decision.
  • The Supreme Court emphasized the importance of establishing the “last seen” theory beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • It cited several legal precedents that clarified the burden of proof in such cases.

Key Legal Principles:

  • In cases based on circumstantial evidence and the “last seen” theory, the burden of proof initially lies with the prosecution.
  • If the prosecution can establish that the accused was the last person seen with the victim, the burden shifts to the accused to provide a reasonable explanation or alibi.
  • Section 106 of the Evidence Act places the onus on the accused to explain facts within their special knowledge.

Supreme Court’s Decision:

  • The Supreme Court held that in this case, there was a significant time gap between the alleged “last seen” and the discovery of the victim’s body.
  • The Court emphasized the need for corroboration and other evidence to support the “last seen” theory.
  • As there was no definitive evidence to establish the “last seen” theory beyond a reasonable doubt, the conviction was overturned.


  • The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case underscores the importance of establishing the “last seen” theory with strong evidence.
  • The burden of proof in such cases is a crucial legal principle, and the Court reiterated that the presumption of innocence favors the accused.
  • This ruling serves as a reminder of the appellate court’s duty to lean in favor of the accused when reviewing acquittals.

This Supreme Court decision clarifies the burden of proof and the standards required for conviction in cases relying on the “last seen” theory, emphasizing the need for strong corroborative evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

decided by the Supreme Court on Sept.6, 2023.


Sanjiv Narang Adv. is an Advocate on Record in the Supreme Court of India. His qualifications include an LLB from University of Delhi and a Masters degree in Personnel Management from Panjab University,Chandigarh.In his more than 3 decades of experience, he has practiced law at the District, High Court and Supreme Court levels.He also has more than a decade of experience in the field of Management. He is the author of two books namely Laws for Women in India and Innovation, Why What and How.