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Supreme Court:  A 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran, and MR Shah, JJ has commuted the death sentence of a convict, Manoj Suryavanshi, in the 2011 Chhattisgarh triple murder case to life imprisonment and said that the convict should be kept in jail for at least 25 years.

A Bilaspur court had on May 5, 2013, sentenced Suryavanshi to death for murdering and hiding the bodies of three children in 2011, a decision which was upheld by the Chhattisgarh High Court on August 8, 2013. The three children, namely Vijay Dhiver (8), Ajay Dhiver (6) Sakshi Dhiver (4), were found dead in a field in Bilaspur district on February 11, 2011. Suryavanshi was working as a labourer at the house of Shivlal Dhiver, the complainant and father of the victims, when his wife — Sumrit Bai — went missing. Suryavanshi suspected that she had eloped with the younger brother of Dhiver, following which he killed the children.

A special leave petition was filed in the Supreme Court in the matter on September 9, 2013.

(Source: ANI)

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 BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, MM Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee, JJ has commuted the death sentence to 25 years’ imprisonment without remission in a case where the convict had raped and killed a 5-year-old girl. The Court said that there was scope of reformation considering that there was no prior offending history and also keeping in mind his overall conduct.

Factual background:

  • Child and her uncle travelled from their native place to the child’s school in the vehicle owned and driven by the accused
  • Uncle gave the custody of the child to the accused upon the assurance of the accused that he would take the child to school safely as had to pay his own daughter’s fees in the same school.
  • When the child did not return home that day an FIR was launched and the accused was apprehended after two days.
  • The school bag and the dead body of the deceased were recovered at the instance of the accused pursuant to the disclosure statement.
  • The accused also assigned a false explanation about leaving the company of the victim that he parted with the company of the child by leaving her at school and hence did not know what happened subsequently. However, the attendance register showed that the child had not come to school that day.

Aggravating/Mitigating Circumstances:

“life imprisonment is the rule to which the death penalty is the exception. The death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inappropriate punishment, having regard to the relevant facts and circumstances of the crime.”

Considering all the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the Court said that the accused has committed a heinous offence in a premeditated manner, as is indicated by the false pretext given to the victim’s uncle to gain custody of the victim.

“He not only abused the faith reposed in him by the PW4, but also exploited the innocence and helplessness of a child as young as five years of age. At the same time, we are not convinced that the probability of reform of the accused/appellant is low, in the absence of prior offending history and keeping in mind his overall conduct.”

With regard to the totality of the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court held that the crime in question may not fall under the category of cases where the death sentence is necessarily to be imposed.

Commuted Sentence:

Keeping in mind the aggravating circumstances of the crime as recounted above the Court said that the sentence of life imprisonment simpliciter would be grossly inadequate in the instant case. It hence, held:

“we deem it proper to impose a sentence   of   life   imprisonment   with   a   minimum   of   25   years’ imprisonment (without remission). The imprisonment of about four years as already undergone by the accused/appellant shall be set off. We have arrived at this conclusion after giving due consideration to the age of the accused/appellant, which is currently around 38 to 40 years.”

[Sachin Kumar Sighraha v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 363, decided on 12.03.2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court:

“The mercy petition is the last hope of a person on death row. Every dawn will give rise to a new hope that his mercy petition may be accepted. By night fall this hope also dies.” – Deepak Gupta, J

The 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, Deepak Gupta and Indira Banerjee, JJ commuted the death sentence of a man who was convicted for killing his wife and 5 children due to the the un­explained delay of 4 years in forwarding the mercy petition by the State of Madhya Pradesh leading to delay of almost 5 years in deciding the mercy petition.

The Court said that it has repeatedly held that in cases where death sentence has to be executed the same should be done as early as possible and if mercy petitions are not forwarded for 4 years and no explanation is submitted, it cannot but hold that the delay is inordinate and un­explained. The Court noticed:

“there not only was there a long, inordinate and un­explained delay on the part of the State of Madhya Pradesh but to make matters worse, the State of Madhya Pradesh has not even cared to file any counter affidavit in the Writ Petition even though notice was issued 4 years back on 18.11.2014 and service was effected within a month of issuance of notice.”

The Court also took note of the fact that the petitioner has now been behind bars for almost about 14 years as he was convicted on April 24, 2006. It, hence, held that regardless of the brutal nature of crime this is not a fit case where death sentence should be executed and it commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. However, keeping in view the nature of crime and the fact that 6 innocent lives were lost, the bench directed that life imprisonment in this case shall mean the entire remaining life of the petitioner and he shall not be released till his death. [Jagdish v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 250, decided on 21.02.2019]