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]