Supreme Court: In a case where the trial court had convicted the accused and imposed death penalty on the very same day, the 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai* and BV Nagarathna, JJ has converted the death sentence to life imprisonment after noticing that the trial court as well as the High Court has only taken into consideration the crime but have not taken into consideration the criminal, his state of mind, his socioeconomic background etc.
In the present case, a property dispute led to the accused brutally killing two of his siblings and one nephew. One of the deceased brother’s wife she saw the appellant armed with an axe getting out of her house in the early morning of 11th October 2015. When she entered the house, she saw her brother-in-law lying dead smeared with blood and his neck was detached from the body. In the courtyard, she also found her son lying dead. Her husband had gone to his field in the night so as to guard the crops and suspecting something might be done to him as well, when she rushed towards the field, she saw the accused assaulting her husband with an axe.
The trial judge had awarded death sentence to the appellant for the offences punishable under Section 302 of the IPC (3 counts) and 7 years’ rigorous imprisonment each for the offences punishable under Sections 201 and 506¬B of the IPC respectively. The Madhya Pradesh High Court confirmed the death penalty.
While the Supreme Court found no fault with the conviction of the accused, it took exception to the death sentence awarded by the Trial Court on the very day of conviction.
The Court noticed that from the judgment of the trial court, it does not appear that the appellant was given a meaningful time and a real opportunity of hearing on the question of sentence. Nor did the Courts draw a balance sheet of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
“The trial court as well as the High Court has only taken into consideration the crime but have not taken into consideration the criminal, his state of mind, his socioeconomic background etc.”
Noticing that it is Court’s bounden duty to take into consideration the probability of the accused being reformed and rehabilitated and also take into consideration not only the crime but also the criminal, his state of mind and his socio-economic conditions, the Court observed that,
“The appellant comes from a rural and economically poor background. There are no criminal antecedents. The appellant cannot be said to be a hardened criminal. This is the first offence committed by the appellant, no doubt, a heinous one. The certificate issued by the Jail Superintendent shows that the conduct of the appellant during incarceration has been satisfactory.”
It was hence held that it cannot, therefore, be said that there was no possibility of the appellant being reformed and rehabilitated foreclosing the alternative option of a lesser sentence and making imposition of death sentence imperative.
The Court, hence, converted the sentence imposed on the appellant from death to life. However, taking into consideration the gruesome murder of two of his siblings and one nephew, the Court held that the accused deserved rigorous imprisonment of 30 years.
[Bhagchandra v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1209, decided on 09.12.2021]
For appellant: Senior Advocate N. Hariharan
For State: Assistant Advocate General Swarupama Chaturvedi
*Judgment by: Justice BR Gavai