Death penalty commuted on the grounds of possibility of reformation : Supreme Court

The issue whether death sentence of man belonging to scheduled tribe who was convicted of rape and murder of a minor girl child can be commuted was decided upon by a bench of Supreme Court consisting of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Justice BR Gavai and Justice BV Nagarathna in the matters between Bhagwani v. State of Madhya Pradesh Criminal Appeal No.-101-102 of 2022 decided on 18.1.2022.

The facts of the case are the appellant was found guilty of an offence under section 363, 366A, 364, 346, 376D, 376A, 302, 201 of IPC 1860 and section 5(g)(m) read with Section 6 of  POCSO Act, 2012 firstly,the trial court and later,by the Madhya Pradesh High Court.The appellant appealed before this court against these conviction.

The appellants contended that none of the discoveries and recoveries implicate the Appellant. The courts made a mistake based on the Appellant’s disclosure statement. It further stated that none of the articles recovered from the alleged crime scene had any connection with the Appellant. The Appellant’s injuries cannot be considered a case as he was a worker doing physical work, but the “injury marks” in the arrest report were found to be blank. The statement of the accused, last seen with the victim, was not properly considered by the following Courts. He referred to the evidence of Bhagat Singh (PW-5) and argued that the Appellant had been apprehended from his home and that only Satish had escaped. It was contended that the explanations made by the Appellant in its examination pursuant to Section 313 were not appreciated. A statement under Section 313 cannot be considered concrete evidence. According to the Appellant’s knowledgeable attorney, the chain of circumstances is incomplete and not consistent with a single hypothesis proving the Appellant’s guilt. As regards the death penalty, the Appellant’s trained lawyer argued that his right to a fair trial, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, had been violated due to the lack of effective legal assistance in the present case. Appointed by the Court to cross-examine witnesses, the amicus curiae was not given sufficient time and the Appellant was not given the opportunity to present relevant materials before adjudicating. The extenuating circumstances were not properly addressed. The undisputed lien was not considered by the following Courts. The Appellant’s trained counsel further argued that the Appellant could not be convicted under section 376A of IPC. After the change in 2013, gang rape was excluded from the scope of sections 376 (1) and (2) . The Prosecution did not present any evidence to reveal any common intent between the Appellant and Satish to commit an offense under Section 376D. The penalty for gang rape is life imprisonment. Therefore, the application of the death penalty cannot be sustained.

The respondents argued that there is no break in the chain of events or conditions. The Appellant visited the shop and the PW-5 witnessed the deceased go to Satish’s home, this was confirmed by Satish in his testimony under Section 313 that he admitted that the deceased had come to his home to keep his black shawl. The deceased later disappeared, and his body was found the next morning in the morning. Medical evidence revealed that the deceased had been brutally raped and murdered. Scientific evidence clearly showed that Satish committed the crime of rape. Satish and the Appellant were seen together on the evening of 14.04.2017 and also visited PW-9 in the morning the next day. They were messy and asked for PW-9 for the liquor. Satish then disappeared and was captured that afternoon. According to the statement, the Appellant’s clothes were confiscated from the barn in the Appellant’s home.The Forensic Sciences Laboratory (FSL) also relied on the DNA report by Sagar. Special reference was made to the Appellant’s Item D, a full trousers with bloodstains near the zippered area. Ms. Chaudhary argued that multiple peaks were observed when examining the Appellant’s Item D, which indicated that there was more than one DNA feature in Item D. The Appellant did not examine his mother and Deepa, whom he slept with on the night of 14.04.2017. Referring to the answers given to the questions put to the Appellant under section 313. The counsel relied on the law established by this Court and argued that only denial would provide additional link if the circumstances were proven. He argued that the statement within the scope of section 313 by the state counsel could not be used as evidence against the accused to the extent that it supported the prosecution, although it could not be a basis for a conviction. A helpless teenage girl is battered to death after being raped, and the Appellant deserves no indulgence. The State’s argument is that there was no error committed by the Judicial Court in imposing the death penalty on the Appellant for his serious crimes.

The apex court held that there was no wrong in conviction of the accused but noted that while the trial court and the high court took into account the gravity of the crime, they did not take into account the extenuating circumstances, including the convict’s socio-economic background and the possibility of correction and rehabilitation. The appellant convict will not qualify for remission for 30 years. In the present case, the Court noted that extenuating circumstances had not been taken into account when sentencing the accused to death by the trial court. The court decided that the plaintiff, who was a member of the scheduled tribe community, was 25 years old at the time of the crime, was making a living by manual labor and had no criminal history. There were also no negative reports against him about his behavior in prison. Therefore, the Court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. However, considering that the crimes of rape and murder were committed in a barbaric and brutal manner, the Appellant is sentenced to a 30-year life sentence for an unfortunate 11-year-old girl, during which time her pardon is not accepted.

Judgement reviewed by Bhaswati Goldar




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