Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: In a first sentencing of its kind, a bench comprising of Bhushan Gavai and Prasanna Varale, JJ. confirmed double death sentence and double life imprisonment in a case of rape and murder of a two year old girl by her uncle. The sentence was awarded under Section 376-A of the Penal Code, 1860  which was brought through the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2014 after the gruesome Nirbhaya case. This section provides for death sentence for an offence of committing rape and inflicting injury which causes death or causes the woman to be in a persistent vegetative state.

Besides death sentence under Section 376A, the accused was awarded another death sentence under Section 302 of the Penal Code, 1860 for murder by the Yavatmal Sessions Court. He was also sentenced to two life terms under Section 376 (2) of the Penal Code, 1860 and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012.

The Counsel for the accused, pleaded for leniency on account for his young age and poor family background and contended that there existed a possibility of him being rehabilitated and not committing any offence in the future.  However, the Court observed that these grounds cannot be mitigating circumstances in a case of such extreme depravity. Dismissing the plea, the Court observed that in the present case, the heinous and gruesome rape and murder of the child victim at the hands of the appellant/accused needs to be dealt with a deterrent punishment like death sentence. [State of Maharashtra vs. Shatrughna Baban Meshram, 2015 SCC OnLine Bom 5052, decided on 12-10-2015]

High Courts

Calcutta High Court: In a dreadful incident involving murder of a 13 year old step-son by his father and for having carnal intercourse with him against the order of nature and causing disappearance of evidence of unnatural offence, a division bench of Ashim K. Roy and Ishan Chandra Das JJ commuted the death sentence of the accused awarded by the trial court to an imprisonment of 25 years.

In the instant case, the trial court awarded death sentence to the accused (appellant) for his conviction under Section 302 IPC and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for 10 years and 5 years concurrently for his conviction under Section 377 and 201 IPC, on the observation that in the present case (a) the victim was helpless child on whom the accused being his stepfather was in a dominating position, (b) the accused to fulfil his lust by making carnal intercourse on him for several days and taking advantage of his position in a very cold and pre-planned way took him away and for concealing the evidence of unnatural offence killed him brutally by strangulation with ligature (c) after committing the murder, he returned home in the evening and behaved normally with the unfortunate mother of the helpless boy (d) the conduct of the accused proves that he is a man without natural instinct and cannot be rectified and reformed and free movement of the accused in the society at large will be dangerous. If this kind of crime is treated leniently, wrong signal will go to the society that no proper justice is available in our society.

The Court observed that the case rests entirely on circumstantial evidence, and the chain of evidence and examination of witnesses clearly established the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. The Court also observed that the victim died a homicidal death and autopsy report clearly reveals that the deceased was subjected to regular carnal intercourse. The Court noted that though the crime committed by the appellant was grave, serious and heinous and that he had a dirty and perverted mind and no control over his carnal desire, however it cannot be held that he is such a dangerous person to spare his life would endanger the community and would constitute a continuing threat to the society. Accordingly, the Court while upholding the order of conviction, rejected the death reference and commuted it to an imprisonment of 25 years relying of a very recent case of  Sangeet and another v. State of Haryana (2013) 2 SCC 452. State of West Bengal v. Sanjay @ Batul Halder,2015 SCC OnLine Cal 700 decided on 30.03.2015

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: In a heinous crime committed by a married man aged 47 where he made a 4 year old girl the prey of his lust and deliberately caused her death, the 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, R.F. Nariman and U.U. Lalit unhesitatingly held that the case fell within the rarest of the rare category, thereby, awarding death sentence to the accused.

The accused, who was a friend of the neighbour of the victim, had lured her with chocolate and had a forcible sexual intercourse with her before finally killing her by causing head injury by using 2 heavy stones. The accused, through his counsel Sanjiv Das, had alleged that he was being framed in the case owing to personal animosity; however, the Court rejected the said contention. The Court said that the injuries caused on the minor girl are likely to send a chill in the spine of the society and shiver in the marrows of human conscience. Holding that the act of the accused was barbaric in nature, the Court also took note of the coolness of the accused that was evident from the fact he had washed his clothes and took proper care of hiding the things after the assault. The contention that the accused was mid-aged and hence could be reformed, was thus rejected by the Court stating that there had been no remorse on the part of the accused and also that he was a history-sheeter who had number of cases pending against him. Hence, the Court held that there were no mitigating circumstances to be taken care of while awarding death sentence to the accused.

In the case where Shankar Chillarge represented the State of Maharashtra, the Court held that when a helpless and defenceless child gets raped and murdered by a man she considered to be her uncle, it is not only betrayal of an individual trust but destruction and devastation of social trust. Vasanta Sampat Dupare v. State of Maharshtra, 2014 SCC OnLine SC 942, decided on 26.11.2014

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: In a landmark judgment, where the 5 judge bench of R.M. Lodha, CJ and J.S. Khehar, Dr. A.K. Sikri, R.F. Nariman and J. Chelameswar, JJ were called upon to decide the issue relating to hearing of Review Petitions of death row convicts in an open court, the Court, with a 4-1 majority, answered in affirmative. Accepting the argument of K.K. Venugopal that death sentence cases are a distinct category of cases, the Court held that since death penalty is irreversible in nature and that once the death sentence is executed, the convict cannot be brought back to life if it is found later that such sentence was not warranted, a limited oral hearing even at the review stage is mandated by Article 21of the Constitution in all death sentence cases.

According further clarification to it’s decision, the Court said that the right of a limited oral hearing in review petitions where death sentence is given, shall be applicable only in pending review petitions and such petitions filed in future. In cases where review petition has already been dismissed but the death sentence has not been executed so far, the petitioners can apply for the reopening of their review petition within one month from the date of this judgment. However, it was held that in cases where even a curative petition is dismissed, it would not be proper to reopen such matters.

However, Chelameswar, J. giving his dissenting opinion disagreed with 2 out of 3 grounds taken into consideration by the Court to reach it’s majority decision. The minority view on the said issue was the possibility of different judicial minds reaching different conclusions on the same set of facts, as considered by the majority, does not arise since review petitions are normally heard by the same Bench which heard the appeal. Disagreeing with the ground that even a remote chance of deviating from the original decision would justify an oral hearing in a review petition, Chelameswar, J said that the same is equally applicable to all cases of review and cannot be specially made applicable to the death sentence cases. Mohd. Arif v. Supreme Court of India, Writ Petition (Criminal) No.77 of 2014, decided on 02.09.2014