SC acquits 6 falsely implicated death row convicts in a 16 year old crime; orders reinvestigation

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dr. AK Sikri, SA Nazeer and MR Shah, JJ has acquitted 6 death row convicts and has directed reinvestigation in a crime that was committed in June, 2003.

The Court was hearing the case where 5 people were brutally killed and a woman was raped. However, the accused were falsely implicated in the matter as they were all nomadic tribes coming from the lower strata of the society and are very poor labourers.

Lapse on part of investigating agency:

Noticing that an injured prime witness identified four named persons from the album of the photographs of notorious criminals but nothing was  on record whether those four persons were arrested or not or any further investigation was carried out with respect to those four persons, the Court said that there was a serious lapse on the part of the investigating agency, which has affected the fair investigation and fair trial, and therefore, the fundamental rights of the accused guaranteed under Articles 20 & 21 of the Constitution of India have been violated. It said:

“The benefit of the lapse in investigation and/or unfair investigation cannot be permitted to go to the persons who are real culprits and in fact who committed the offence.”

The Court, hence, directed the Chief Secretary, Home Department, State of Maharashtra to:

  • look into the matter and identify such erring officers/officials responsible for failure of a prosecution case, on account of sheer negligence or because of culpable lapses, real culprits are out of the clutches of law and because of whose lapses the case has resulted into acquittal in a case where five persons were killed brutally and one lady was subjected to even rape.
  • take departmental action against those erring officers/officials, if those officers/officials are still in service. The instant direction shall be given effect to within a period three months from the date of the order.

The Court also directed the prosecution to conduct further investigation under Section 173(8) against those four persons identified by the injured prime witness so that real culprits should not go unpunished.

Compensation to falsely implicated persons:

The Court also took note of the statement of a psychiatrist who had examined one of the accused who was subsequently found to be a juvenile. The juvenile had clearly opined that he has lived under sub-human conditions for several years. He was kept in isolation in solitary confinement with very restricted human contact and under perpetual fear of death. He was only allowed to meet his mother, and that too only infrequently. He was not even allowed to mix with other prisoners. Therefore, all the accused remained under constant stress and in the perpetual fear of death. As they were facing the death penalty, they might not have availed any other facilities of parole, furlon etc. All of them who were between the age of 25-30 years (and one of the accused was a juvenile) have lost their valuable years of their life in jail. Their family members have also suffered. Considering the aforesaid facts and circumstances, the Court directed:

“The State of Maharashtra to pay a sum of Rs.5,00,000/- to each of the accused by way of compensation, to be deposited by the State with the learned Sessions Court within a period of four weeks from today and on such deposit, the same be paid to the concerned accused on proper identification.”

[Ankush Maruti Shinde v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 317, decided on 05.03.2019]

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