Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: The Division Bench of Ramesh Sinha and Rajeev Singh, JJ., upheld the capital punishment of a man who murdered his wife and four minor daughters.

Appellant was charged for offence punishable under Section 302 of Penal Code, 1860.

Aggrieved by conviction and sentence, the accused preferred a Criminal Appeal from Jail. Also, the trial court made a reference for confirmation of the death sentence awarded to the accused.

Instant case was based on circumstantial evidence and the appellant had been convicted and sentenced to death by the trial Court for murdering his wife and children vide impugned judgment.

In respect to convict the person in a case of circumstantial evidence, the Supreme Court in the celebrated case of Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra, (1984) 3 SCC 116, laid down the conditions to be fulfilled before a case against an accused can be said to be fully established.

Hence, while dealing with circumstantial evidence, the onus is on the prosecution to prove that the chain is complete and the infirmity of lacuna in prosecution cannot be cured by false defence or plea.

In a case of circumstantial evidence, conditions precedent before conviction could be placed on circumstantial evidence, must be fully established such as:

(1) the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established. The circumstances concerned ”must’ or ”should’ and not ”may be’ established;

(2) the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused, that is to say, they should not be explainable on any other hypothesis except that the accused is guilty;

(3) the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency;

(4) they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved; and

(5) there must be a chain of evidence so complete as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability the act must have been done by the accused.

In the present case, as is apparent from the evidence on record that there appears to be a motive for the appellant to commit the murder of his wife Sangeeta along with her children, which is established from the evidence of PW2-Chatra Pal Raidas, who is the real brother of deceased Sangeeta. PW2, in his deposition before the trial Court, stated that his sister Sangeeta, who used to come to his house and stayed there for about 1-2 months, had made a complaint to him about the illicit relationship of the appellant with Manju; Manju had become pregnant from the appellant; and the appellant wanted to marry with Manju, which was objected by his sister Sangeeta; and the appellant was adamant to marry with Manju, on account of which, the appellant committed the murder of his wife deceased Sangeeta along with four minor children, who was living along with the appellant in his house. P.W.2-Chatra Pal Raidas further stated that when Sangeeta had come to his house, she told about the aforesaid fact. He also stated, in his evidence, that ten days prior to the incident, the deceased Sangeeta had come to his house and in the presence of his neighbours, namely, Chailbihari and Balgovind, had also disclosed about the illicit relationship of the appellant with Manju. Thus, the motive to commit the murder of the deceased Sangeeta along with her children stood proved from the evidence of PW2 and there is no reason for him to depose falsely against the appellant.

It would also be pertinent to mention that another motive of the appellant to commit the murder of his wife and his children, as has been apparent from the evidence of P.W.1 and P.W.2, that the appellant, on taking advantage of the murder of his wife and children, wanted to get compensation from the State Government as earlier also the appellant had taken the compensation for the murder of his real brother Siyaram, which was paid by the State Government to the tune of Rs 4-5 Lakhs, and which was, in fact, given to the daughter of deceased Siyaram, namely, Gudiya but he managed to take the said compensation from Gudiya, who died on account of illness.

Prosecution proved beyond doubt that the appellant had a motive to commit the murder of his wife and his 4 minor children.

Bench stated that it would be apt to state the principles which would make an extra-judicial confession an admissible piece of evidence capable of forming the basis of conviction of an accused. These precepts would guide the judicial mind while dealing with the veracity of cases where the prosecution heavily relies upon an extra-judicial confession alleged to have been made by the accused.

The principles that come out are as follows:

  • The extra-judicial confession is a weak evidence by itself. It has to be examined by the court with greater care and caution;
  • It should be made voluntarily and should be truthful;
  • It should inspire confidence;
  • An extra-judicial confession attains greater credibility and evidentiary value, if it is supported by a chain of cogent circumstances and is further corroborated by other prosecution evidence;
  • For an extra-judicial confession to be the basis of conviction, it should not suffer from any material discrepancies and inherent improbabilities; and
  • Such statement essentially has to be proved like any other fact and in accordance with law.

Bench stated that the accused had strong motive to commit the murder of his wife at the time of the incident, the appellant and the five deceased were the only occupants in the house, in which they were living together; after the arrest of the appellant at his pointing out the weapon of murder and his blood stained clothes were recovered which he had concealed; soon after the incident, the appellant made an extra judicial confession before PW3 and PW 4 admitting his guilt.

From the totality of circumstances and entire evidence on record, it was proved that no one else but the appellant alone committed the murder of his wife and four minor daughters.

Hence, trial court’s order was upheld.

‘Death Sentence’ awarded under Section 302 of IPC

It is true that capital punishment has been the subject-matter of great social and judicial discussion and catechism.

The ratio laid down by the Supreme Court in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684 and Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab, (1983) 3 SCC 470 continue to serve as the foundation-stone of contemporary sentencing jurisprudence though they have been expounded or distinguished for the purpose of commuting death sentence, mostly in the cases of

  • conviction based on circumstantial evidence alone;
  • failure of the prosecution to discharge its onus re: reformation;
  • a case of residual doubts;
  • where the other peculiar ”mitigating circumstances outweighed the ”aggravating circumstances.

In the instant case, the accused/convict Ramanand has committed the murder of his wife and four minor innocent daughters aged about 7 years, 5 years, 3 years and the youngest one aged about one and a half month. It transpires from the evidence on record that the criminal act of the accused/convict was actuated to pave a way to marry one lady, namely, Manju, who was already married. It was the deceased Sangeeta (wife of the appellant), who opposed his marriage with Manju but the accused/convict was adamant to marry with Manju at any cost and in order to marry with Manju, accused/convict murdered not only murder his own wife but also his own four innocent minor daughters aged between one and half month to eight years in a most brutal and barbaric manner without their no-fault and without any rhyme or reason. Before murdering the deceased, the accused/convict had also chopped off various parts of their bodies and inflicted severe incised wounds as is evident from the post-mortem report.

Further, the Court added that the special reasons assigned by the trial Court for awarding extreme penalty of death were that the murder was horrifying as the accused-appellant was in a dominant position; victim was helpless being children aged about 7, 5, 3 years and the youngest one was just one and a half-month-old and the murder was premeditated and pre-planned one with a motive and committed in a cruel, grotesque and diabolical manner. The accused is a menace to the Society and, therefore, imposition of lesser sentence than that of death sentence, would not be adequate and appropriate.

Hence, the Court agreed with trial court and the instant case rightly falls in the category of ‘rarest of rare case’ warranting capital punishment.

Bench confirmed the appellant’ sentence under Section 302 IPC.[State of U.P. v. Ramanand, 2021 SCC OnLine All 451, decided on 9-07-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Counsel for Appellant: – Govt. Advocate, Amicus Curaie, Rajesh Kumar Dwivedi

Counsel for Appellant: – Jail Appeal, Rajesh Kumar Dwivedi

Counsel for Respondent : – Govt. Advocate

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS): The Court with a ratio of 5:4 has cleared the way for the resumption of execution of federal prisoners. The Judges voted to allow the first executions on the federal level since 2003 to proceed at the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. The majority in an unsigned opinion observed that the prisoners on death row had “not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention.” The majority included John Roberts, C.J., and Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch, JJ.,

Several executions including the scheduled execution of Daniel Lewis Lee (charged guilty of triple murders) were put on hold after U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that there were still unresolved legal challenges against the justice department; and that “the public is not served by short-circuiting legitimate judicial process.” The condemned prisoners had contended that the lethal injections constitute “cruel and unusual punishments”. Perusing the contentions, the District Judge had observed that the inmates have presented evidence showing that the government’s plan to use only pentobarbital to carry out the executions “poses an unconstitutionally significant risk of serious pain. In view of the District Judge’s decision, The Justice Department lost no time and appealed to both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court.

Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, JJ., dissented with the majority. Stephen Breyer, J., expressing his dissatisfaction at the decision of the majority pointed out that the resumption of federal executions promises to provide examples that illustrate the difficulties of administering the death penalty consistent with the Constitution. Meanwhile, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, J., pointed out the hastiness with which the majority reached their decision. She observed that this Court had denied a similar request seven months ago in Barr v. Roane, 589 U.S. (2019) and prohibited the Government to proceed with executions before the Court of Appeals could address respondents’ serious statutory challenge to the federal execution protocol. She further observed that, “decision illustrates just how grave the consequences of such accelerated decision making can be. The Court forever deprives respondents of their ability to press a constitutional challenge to their lethal injections, and prevents lower courts from reviewing that challenge. All of that is at sharp odds with this Court’s own ruling mere months earlier. In its hurry to resolve the Government’s emergency motions, I fear the Court has overlooked not only it’s prior ruling, but also its role in safeguarding robust federal judicial review”. [William P. Barr v. Daniel Lewis Lee, 2020 SCC OnLine US SC 7, decided on 14-07-2020]


Also Read:

BREAKING | SCOTUS allows Federal Executions; 1st federal executions in 17 years

Hot Off The PressNews

As reported by media, Cabinet of the State of Andhra Pradesh has cleared the passage for a bill that proposes capital punishment in the cases of sexual abuse of women. Justice in 21-days including investigation and trial are also the components of the Bill.

Andhra Pradesh government has cleared two bills with the objective of speedy justice to women and children with the focus on rape victims and other sexual offences.

First Bill aims for justice in 21-days including investigation and trial and the second one mandates setting up special courts to try sexual offences against women and children.


[Source: Media Reports]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a ghastly case involving rape and murder of 2 children, the 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, Surya Kant and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has refused to review their verdict in Manoharan v. State, (2019) 7 SCC 716, upholding  the conviction of the accused. In the said judgment, the bench had unanimously upheld the conviction, but gave 2:1 verdict on quantum of punishment.

While Nariman and Surya Kant, JJ awarded death penalty, Khanna, J did not think that this case was fit for a death penalty and hence, commuted it to imprisonment for life i.e. till convict’s natural life with a stipulation that he would not be entitled to remission under Sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  • In October 2010, accused Mohanakrishnan & Manoharan kidnapped a 10-year-old girl & her 7-year-old brother while they were preparing to leave for school.
  • The children were taken to a remote area and rape was committed on the girl.
  • Attempt was made to kill both the children by feeding them poisonous cow dung powder mixed in milk. However, the children took only a small amount of the milk and didn’t die.
  • The children were then thrown away alive in the Parambikulam-Axhiyar Project canal.
  • Both the accused were arrested but Mohanakrishnan was later shot dead in an encounter.

MITIGATING FACTORS CONSIDERED BY THE COURT IN THE REVIEW PETITION

Lack of adequate opportunity to place on record material/evidence of mitigating circumstances

After re-visiting the mitigating circumstances against aggravating circumstances, as well as a report commissioned by this Court during the course of appeal and submitted by the jail superintendent, the Court held that the conduct of the Petitioner is merely satisfactory and he has not undertaken any study or anything else to show any signs of reformation.

Backward socioeconomic circumstances

There is nothing to support the arguments that the accused is a helpless, illiterate young adult who is a victim of his socioeconomic circumstances. Far from being so, it is clear through the version of events that the accused had the presence of mind to craft his own defence and attempt to retract his confession through an elaborately written eleven page letter addressed to the Magistrate and had further received adequate legal representation.

Remorse

Accused’s advocate argued that the retraction letter shows that he stopped the co-accused from committing rape and this is evident of the fact that he has remorse which entitles him to commutation, if not acquittal. The Court, however, held that the retraction was extremely belated and only a defence to shield himself. Further, medical evidence has proved that rape was committed on the deceased girl. It is hence factually incorrect to state that the Petitioner prevented the co-accused from raping the girl and is nothing more than a belated lie at the end of the trial.

Young age and aged parents

Mere young age and presence of aged parents cannot be grounds for commutation. Such young age poses a continuous burden on the State and presents a longer risk to society, hence warranting more serious intervention by Courts.

Criminal Record

The Court refused to give leeway of the lack of criminal record, considering that the current crime was not just one offence, but comprised of multiple offences over the series of many hours.

The bench held that the present case is essentially one where two accused misused societal trust to hold as captive two innocent school-going children, one of whom was brutally raped and sodomised, and thereupon administered poison and finally, drowned by throwing them into a canal. It was not in the spur of the moment or a crime of passion; but craftily planned, meticulously executed and with multiple opportunities to cease and desist.

Nariman and Surya Kant, JJ, hence, held

“We are of the view that the present offence(s) of the Petitioner are so grave as to shock the conscience of this Court and of society and would without doubt amount to rarest of the rare.”

While Khanna, J agreed with his learned brothers on the dismissal of review petition and upholding of the conviction of the accused, on the question of sentence, he held,

“I do not see any good ground and reasons to review my observations and findings in the minority judgment.”

[Manoharan v. State, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1433, decided on 07.11.2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a ghastly case involving rape and murder of 2 children, the 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, Surya Kant and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ upheld the conviction of the accused but gave 2:1 verdict on quantum of punishment.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  • In October 2010, accused Mohanakrishnan & Manoharan kidnapped a 10-year-old girl & her 7-year-old brother while they were preparing to leave for school.
  • The children were taken to a remote area and rape was committed on the girl.
  • Attempt was made to kill both the children by feeding them poisonous cow dung powder mixed in milk. However, the children took only a small amount of the milk and didn’t die.
  • The children were then thrown away alive in the Parambikulam-Axhiyar Project canal.
  • Both the accused were arrested but Mohanakrishnan was later shot dead in an encounter.

QUANTUM OF PUNISHMENT

MAJORITY VIEW BY NARIMAN AND SURYA KANT, JJ

Considering the serious nature of the crime, Justice Nariman, writing for himself and Surya Kant, J said that there is no doubt that aggravated penetrative sexual assault was committed on the 10 year old girl by more than one person. The 10 year old girl child (who was below 12 years of age) would fall within Section 5 (m) of the POCSO 48 Act. He further said,

“There can be no doubt that today’s judgment is in keeping with the legislature’s realisation that such crimes are on the rise and must be dealt with severely.”

It was noticed that the crime in the case at hand was extremely shocking as a young 10 year old girl has first been horribly gangraped after which she and her brother aged 7 years were done away with while they were conscious by throwing them into a canal which caused their death by drowning. The Court also noticed that no remorse has been shown by the Appellant at all and given the nature of the crime it is unlikely that the Appellant, if set free, would not be capable of committing such a crime yet again.

The Court, hence, confirmed the death sentence imposed on the appellant.

MINORITY VIEW BY KHANNA, J

While Khanna, J said that he would uphold the appellant’s conviction, he did not think that this case was fit for a death penalty and would, hence, commute it to imprisonment for life i.e. till his natural life with a stipulation that the appellant would not be entitled to remission under Sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Noticing that the appellant had confessed to his crime and that confession is a ground to mitigate the sentence, Khanna, J said,

“to confess to such acts of crime and misdeeds before all and everyone, including the Magistrate could only mean that the appellant had felt shame, remorse and alienation from the society.”

He also noticed that the appellant had retracted the last part of his confession as to his involvement in sexual assault, rape and throwing the children in the canal and said that the retraction does, however, substantially reiterate and accept the first portion of the confession, including his presence in the van, but states that the appellant had not raped the girl and had remained standing.

He said,

“The retraction by itself, I would observe, should not be treated as absence of remorse or repentance, albeit an afterthought or on advice propelled by fear that the appellant in view of his admission may face the gallows, and that the earlier confession made seeking forgiveness would be the cause of his death.”

Khanna, J also took note of the fact that the appellant was 23 years of age at the time of occurrence and he belongs to a poor family. The facts that he has aged parents and is a first-time offender were also taken into consideration.

He, hence, held,

“the present case does not fall under the category of ‘rarest of rare’ case i.e. there is no alternative but to impose death sentence. It would fall within the special category of cases, where the appellant should be directed to suffer sentence for life i.e. till his natural death, without remission/commutation under Sections 432 and 433 Cr.P.C.”

[Manoharan v. State, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 951, decided on 01.08.2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madhya Pradesh High Court: A Division Bench comprising of J.K.Maheshwari and Akhil Kumar Srivastava, JJ., addressed the issue of rape and murder of a minor girl to see if capital punishment of death penalty could be imposed upon the accused.

Accused in this case was alleged under Sections 376A, 302, 342, 201/511of IPC. He raped a minor girl aged 12-year old after which the girl died. The court had no doubt as to the commission of rape by the accused as many people witnessed the accused running away from the hut where the girl was found dead. The post-mortem report confirmed rape but the reason for her death was stated to be asphyxia. Trial Court observed that the case was proved beyond reasonable doubt. While sentencing accused, Trial Court took aid under Section 42 of POCSO Act as the victim was a minor girl. Stating instant case as rarest of rare case capital punishment of death was awarded.

The appeal went before High Court where the question of whether it was a “rarest of the rare case” was to be decided. Court referred various judgments of Apex Court to understand “rarest of the rare case” and on perusing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances court was of the view that the instant case would not come under “rarest of the rare case”. Therefore, Court set aside the capital punishment given for the offence under Section 376A of the I.P.C. [Sunil Adiwasi v. State of M.P., Criminal Appeal No.5015 of 2018, dated 17-08-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, JJ, while considering the affidavits filed to show the mitigating circumstances by the 4 accused persons in the appeal against the capital punishment in the Nirbhaya Case, noticed that the affidavit filed by the accused Mukesh does not cover many aspects, namely, socio-economic background, criminal antecedents, family particulars, personal habits, education, vocational skills, physical health and his conduct in the prison. It was argued by M.L. Sharma, appearing for Mukesh that the same has not been submitted by the Superintendent of Jail.

The Court, hence, stating that the Superintendent of Jail should have filed the report with regard to the conduct of the accused persons since they are in custody for almost four years as that would have thrown light on their conduct, directed that the report be filed by the Superintendent of Jail in a sealed cover in the Court on the next date of hearing i.e. 20.03.2017.

On 03.02.2017, the Court had agreed to hear the appeal against the capital punishment imposed on the accused persons in the Nirbhaya case and had noticed that there are two modes of dealing the matter at hand, one is to remand the matter and the other is to direct the accused persons to produce necessary data and advance the contention on the question of sentence. However, considering the nature of the case, the bench decided to go with the second mode. [Mukesh v. State for NCT of Delhi, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 213, order dated 06.03.2017]