Conviction and Death Sentence on the same Day for kidnapping, rape and murder of an 11 Year Old: SC commutes sentence from death to life

Supreme Court: In a case where the order of conviction and sentence was passed on the same day, the 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna, JJ has stressed on the importance of bifurcated hearing for convicting and sentencing and has observed that the same is necessary to provide an effective opportunity to the accused. Adequate opportunity to produce relevant material on the question of death sentence should be provided to the accused by the Trial Court.

The Court was hearing the case the kidnapping, rape and murder of a girl aged 11 years. On 14.04.2017, the victim, along with her parents and two brothers, went to attend a function. While returning, her parents realized that she was missing and upon searching, at about 5:00 AM on the next day, the mother found her daughter lying near a hand-pump. She was in an unconscious condition. According to the inspection report, the body of the deceased was lying in a supine position and on the back side of the head of the deceased, there were multiple small pieces of dry grass, Caltrop and a dry bark of drumstick tree in the hair. Both eyes were closed. There were injury marks on the body and blood was present in the genitalia. The cause of the death was given as asphyxia, neurogenic shock due to neck pressing, severe injuries and bleeding in vagina and anal opening by committing rape forcefully.

While the Supreme Court was in agreement with the concurrent findings that the Appellant was guilty of committing the offences as charged, it observed that,

“It is travesty of justice as the Appellant was not given a fair opportunity to defend himself. This is a classic case indicating the disturbing tendency of Trial Courts adjudicating criminal cases involving rape and murder in haste. It is trite law that an accused is entitled for a fair trial which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. In respect of the order of conviction and sentence being passed on the same day, the object and purpose of Section 235 (2) CrPC is that the accused must be given an opportunity to make a representation against the sentence to be imposed on him. A bifurcated hearing for convicting and sentencing is necessary to provide an effective opportunity to the accused. Adequate opportunity to produce relevant material on the question of death sentence shall be provided to the accused by the Trial Court.”

The Court also observed that while the Trial Court and the High Court took into consideration the gravity of the crime while imposing death sentence, the mitigating circumstances and the probability of reformation and rehabilitation of the accused were not considered. The Court noticed that,

  • The Appellant was aged 25 years on the date of commission of the offence and belongs to a Scheduled Tribes community, eking his livelihood by doing manual labour.
  • No evidence has been placed by the prosecution on record to show that there is no probability of rehabilitation and reformation of the Appellant and the question of an alternative option to death sentence is foreclosed.
  • The Appellant had no criminal antecedents before the commission of crime for which he has been convicted.
  • There is nothing adverse that has been reported against his conduct in jail.

Therefore, the Court was of the opinion that the death sentence requires to be commuted to life imprisonment. However, taking into account the barbaric and savage manner in which the offences of rape and murder were committed by the Appellant on a hapless 11 year old girl, the Court sentenced the Appellant to life imprisonment for a period of 30 years during which he shall not be granted remission.

[Bhagwani v. Stat eof Madhya Pradesh, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 52, decided on 18.01.2022]


*Judgment by: L. Nageswara Rao


Counsels:

For appellant: Advocate Shri Singh

For State: Deputy Advocate General Ankita Chaudhary

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