Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, MM Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee, JJ held

“it needs to be understood that prisoners tend to have increased affinity to mental illness. Moreover, due to legal constraints on the recognition of broad­spectrum mental illness within the Criminal Justice System, prisons inevitably become home for a greater number of mentally­ill prisoners of various degrees. There is no overlooking of the fact that the realities within the prison walls may well compound and complicate these problems.”

It said that the aspiration of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 was to provide mental health care facility for those who are in need including prisoners. The State Governments are obliged under Section 103 of the Act to setup a mental health establishment in the medical wing of at least one prison in each State and Union Territory, and prisoners with mental illness may ordinarily be referred to andcared for in the said mental health establishment.

The Court was hearing a case of a death row convict suffering from post-conviction mental illness. He is on death row since almost 17 years for rape and murder of 2 young girls. The Court was, hence, called upon to decide

• How culpability be assessed for sentencing those with mental illness?
• Is treatment better suited than punishment?\

The Court noticed that there are no set disorders/disabilities for evaluating the ‘severe mental illness’, however a ‘test of severity’ can be a guiding factor for recognizing those mental illness which qualify for an exemption. Therefore,

“the test envisaged herein predicates that the offender needs to have a severe mental illness or disability, which simply means that a medical professional would objectively consider the illness to be most serious so that he cannot understand or comprehend the nature and purpose behind the imposition of such punishment. These disorders generally include schizophrenia, other serious psychotic disorders, and dissociative disorders­with schizophrenia.”

Test of severity of post-conviction mental disability

  • The post­conviction severe mental illness will be a mitigating factor that the appellate Court, in appropriate cases, needs to consider while sentencing an accused to death penalty.
  • The assessment of such disability should be conducted by a multi­disciplinary team of qualified professionals (experienced medical practitioners, criminologists etc), including professional with expertise in accused’s particular mental illness.
  • The burden is on the accused to prove by a preponderance of clear evidence that he is suffering with severe mental illness. The accused has to demonstrate active, residual or prodromal symptoms, that the severe mental disability was manifesting.
  • The State may offer evidence to rebut such claim.
  • Court in appropriate cases could setup a panel to submit an expert report.
  • ‘Test of severity’ envisaged herein predicates that the offender needs to have a severe mental illness or disability, which simply means that objectively the illness needs to be most serious that the accused cannot understand or comprehend the nature and purpose behind the imposition of such punishment.

Mitigation of sentence in case at hand

The Court noticed that the present accused has been reeling under bouts of some form of mental irritability since 1994, as apparent from the records placed before us. Moreover, he has suffered long incarceration as well as a death row convict. It is this state of ‘accused x’ that obliges the State to act as parens patriae. In this state ‘accused x’ cannot be ignored and left to rot away, rather, he requires care and treatment. The Court, hence, held,

“the petition is allowed to the extent that the sentence of death awarded to the Petitioner is commuted to imprisonment for the remainder of his life sans any right to remission.”

[‘X’ v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 543, decided on 12.04.2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dr. AK Sikri, SA Nazeer and MR Shah, JJ has acquitted 6 death row convicts and has directed reinvestigation in a crime that was committed in June, 2003.

The Court was hearing the case where 5 people were brutally killed and a woman was raped. However, the accused were falsely implicated in the matter as they were all nomadic tribes coming from the lower strata of the society and are very poor labourers.

Lapse on part of investigating agency:

Noticing that an injured prime witness identified four named persons from the album of the photographs of notorious criminals but nothing was  on record whether those four persons were arrested or not or any further investigation was carried out with respect to those four persons, the Court said that there was a serious lapse on the part of the investigating agency, which has affected the fair investigation and fair trial, and therefore, the fundamental rights of the accused guaranteed under Articles 20 & 21 of the Constitution of India have been violated. It said:

“The benefit of the lapse in investigation and/or unfair investigation cannot be permitted to go to the persons who are real culprits and in fact who committed the offence.”

The Court, hence, directed the Chief Secretary, Home Department, State of Maharashtra to:

  • look into the matter and identify such erring officers/officials responsible for failure of a prosecution case, on account of sheer negligence or because of culpable lapses, real culprits are out of the clutches of law and because of whose lapses the case has resulted into acquittal in a case where five persons were killed brutally and one lady was subjected to even rape.
  • take departmental action against those erring officers/officials, if those officers/officials are still in service. The instant direction shall be given effect to within a period three months from the date of the order.

The Court also directed the prosecution to conduct further investigation under Section 173(8) against those four persons identified by the injured prime witness so that real culprits should not go unpunished.

Compensation to falsely implicated persons:

The Court also took note of the statement of a psychiatrist who had examined one of the accused who was subsequently found to be a juvenile. The juvenile had clearly opined that he has lived under sub-human conditions for several years. He was kept in isolation in solitary confinement with very restricted human contact and under perpetual fear of death. He was only allowed to meet his mother, and that too only infrequently. He was not even allowed to mix with other prisoners. Therefore, all the accused remained under constant stress and in the perpetual fear of death. As they were facing the death penalty, they might not have availed any other facilities of parole, furlon etc. All of them who were between the age of 25-30 years (and one of the accused was a juvenile) have lost their valuable years of their life in jail. Their family members have also suffered. Considering the aforesaid facts and circumstances, the Court directed:

“The State of Maharashtra to pay a sum of Rs.5,00,000/- to each of the accused by way of compensation, to be deposited by the State with the learned Sessions Court within a period of four weeks from today and on such deposit, the same be paid to the concerned accused on proper identification.”

[Ankush Maruti Shinde v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 317, decided on 05.03.2019]