Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where a man had brutally raped and murdered a 7-year-old girl, the 3-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari* and CT Ravikumar, JJ has reversed the concurrent findings of the Courts below and has commuted the death sentence into that of imprisonment for life, with the stipulation that the appellant shall not be entitled to premature release or remission before undergoing actual imprisonment for a period of 30 years.

The Court observed,

“The heinous nature of crime like that of present one, in brutal rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl child, definitely discloses aggravating circumstances, particularly when the manner of its commission shows depravity and shocks the conscience. But, at the same time, it is noticeable that the appellant has no criminal antecedents, comes from a very poor socio-economic background, has a family comprising of wife, children and aged father, and has unblemished jail conduct.”

The Trial Court and the High Court had sentenced the appellant to death for enticing a seven-year-old girl to accompany him on the pretext of picking lychee fruits; having thereafter committed rape upon the child; having caused her death; and having dumped the dead body near a bridge on the riverbank, after having dragged the dead body over a distance of one and one-quarter kilometres.

The Supreme Court, however, noticed that both the Trial Court as also the High Court have taken the abhorrent nature of crime alone to be the decisive factor for awarding death sentence in the present case.

The Trial Court convicted the appellant on 07.12.2016 and on the next day, proceeded to award the sentence. The sentencing order did not indicate if the appellant was extended reasonable opportunity to make out a case of mitigating circumstances by bringing relevant material on record. The sentencing order also failed to satisfy if the Trial Court consciously pondered over the mitigating factors before finding it to be a ‘rarest of rare’ case.

The Trial Court also observed that ‘if such heinous crime is committed by him, it is not justifiable to show any sort of mercy in the punishment.’

The High Court confirmed the order of the Trial Court, with a cursory observation that there were no substantial mitigating factors and the aggravating circumstances were aplenty, after making rather intense comments on the menace of rape and brutal murder of children as also on the society’s abhorrence of such crime.

In such circumstances, the Court observed that the approach of the Trial Court and High Court had been that the accused-appellant was about 33-34 years of age at the time of occurrence and was supposed to be sensible. The Supreme Court, hence, held that the impugned orders awarding and confirming death sentence could only be said to be of assumptive conclusions, where it has been assumed that death sentence has to be awarded because of the ghastly crime and its abhorrent nature.

Disagreeing with the concurrent findings of the Courts below, the Supreme Court held that,

“There is nothing on record to rule out the probability of reformation and rehabilitation of the appellant, in our view, it would be unsafe to treat this case as falling in ‘rarest of rare’ category.”

It observed that when the appellant is not shown to be a person having criminal antecedents and is appellant is not shown to be a person having criminal antecedents and is not a hardened criminal, it cannot be said that there is no probability of him being reformed and rehabilitated. His unblemished jail conduct and having a family of wife, children and aged father would also indicate towards the probability of his reformation.

It was, however, observed that even when the present case is taken to be not falling in the category of ‘rarest of rare’ so as to require termination of the life of the appellant yet, the impact of the offences in question on the conscience of the society as a whole cannot be ignored. Hence, commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment without application of the provisions of premature release/remission before mandatory actual imprisonment, was found to be just and reasonable.

The Court, hence, awarded the punishment of imprisonment for life to the appellant for the offence under Section 302 IPC while providing for actual imprisonment for a minimum period of 30 years. All the substantive sentences to run concurrently.

[Pappu v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 176, decided on 09.02.22]

*Judgment by: Justice Dinesh Maheshwari

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where the trial court had convicted the accused and imposed death penalty on the very same day, the 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai* and BV Nagarathna, JJ has converted the death sentence to life imprisonment after noticing that the trial court as well as the High Court has only taken into consideration the crime but have not taken into consideration the criminal, his state of mind, his socioeconomic background etc.

Factual Background

In the present case, a property dispute led to the accused brutally killing two of his siblings and one nephew. One of the deceased brother’s wife she saw the appellant armed with an axe getting out of her house in the early morning of 11th October 2015. When she entered the house, she saw her brother-in-law lying dead smeared with blood and his neck was detached from the body. In the courtyard, she also found her son lying dead. Her husband had gone to his field in the night so as to guard the crops and suspecting something might be done to him as well, when she rushed towards the field, she saw the accused assaulting her husband with an axe.

The trial judge had awarded death sentence to the appellant for the offences punishable under Section 302 of the IPC (3 counts) and 7 years’ rigorous imprisonment each for the offences punishable under Sections 201 and 506¬B of the IPC respectively. The Madhya Pradesh High Court confirmed the death penalty.


While the Supreme Court found no fault with the conviction of the accused, it took exception to the death sentence awarded by the Trial Court on the very day of conviction.

The Court noticed that from the judgment of the trial court, it does not appear that the appellant was given a meaningful time and a real opportunity of hearing on the question of sentence. Nor did the Courts draw a balance sheet of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

“The trial court as well as the High Court has only taken into consideration the crime but have not taken into consideration the criminal, his state of mind, his socioeconomic background etc.”

Noticing that it is Court’s bounden duty to take into consideration the probability of the accused being reformed and rehabilitated and also take into consideration not only the crime but also the criminal, his state of mind and his socio-economic conditions, the Court observed that,

“The appellant comes from a rural and economically poor background. There are no criminal antecedents. The appellant cannot be said to be a hardened criminal. This is the first offence committed by the appellant, no doubt, a heinous one. The certificate issued by the Jail Superintendent shows that the conduct of the appellant during incarceration has been satisfactory.”

It was hence held that it cannot, therefore, be said that there was no possibility of the appellant being reformed and rehabilitated foreclosing the alternative option of a lesser sentence and making imposition of death sentence imperative.

The Court, hence, converted the sentence imposed on the appellant from death to life.  However, taking  into consideration the gruesome murder of two of his siblings and one nephew, the Court held that the accused deserved rigorous imprisonment of 30 years.

[Bhagchandra v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1209, decided on 09.12.2021]


For appellant: Senior Advocate N. Hariharan

For State: Assistant Advocate General Swarupama Chaturvedi

*Judgment by: Justice BR Gavai

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where 8 members of a family, including 4 minors, were brutally murdered pursuant to property dispute between siblings, the 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna, JJ has converted the punishment from death to life. However, keeping in mind the gruesome murder of the entire family of their sibling in a pre-planned manner without provocation due to a property dispute, the Court held that the convicts deserved a sentence of a period of 30 years.

Case Trajectory

  • There was a dispute relating to property between the Review Petitioners and their brother, Haneef Khan. At 8.30 PM on 06.06.2007, the Petitioners, along with others, assaulted Haneef Khan, who was offering namaz in the mosque, with sharp-edged weapons such as sword, tangi, bhujali and spade. Haneef Khan died on the spot. The Petitioners and others, thereafter, killed Haneef’s two sons, who were proceeding to the mosque on hearing their father. The Petitioners and others rushed into the house of Haneef Khan and murdered his wife and their four minor sons, aged about 5 to 12 years.
  • On 01.08.2008, the Trial Court convicted the petitioners for offences under Sections 302 and 449 read with Section 34 IPC and sentenced to death for offence under Section 302 read with Section 34, IPC and 10 years of rigorous imprisonment for offence under Section 449 read with Section 34, IPC.
  • On 02.07.2009, taking note of the Petitioners’ culpability in the gruesome murders which assumed “the proportion of extreme depravity”, the Jharkhand High Court refused to interfere with the death sentence imposed by the trial court.
  • On 09.10.2014, the Supreme Court dismissed the Criminal Appeal taking note of the manner in which the offence was committed against the helpless children and others and concluded that the Petitioners would be a menace and threat to harmony in the society. Putting an end to the lives of innocent minors and a physically infirm child, apart from other members of the family, in a pre-planned attack, was taken note of by this Court to hold that the case falls under the category of “rarest of the rare” cases.
  • The petitioners had, hence, in the present Review Petition, sought conversion of the death sentence.


The chain of events is complete leading to the conclusion that the murder of the persons inside the house were committed by the Petitioners. The State, hence, argued that in view of the nature of the murders committed in the goriest manner in a pre-meditated fashion, the Petitioners are not entitled to seek conversion of the death sentence. The manner of commission of the crime shows that this is the rarest of the rare cases, warranting a death sentence and that the diabolic and cold-blooded nature of the crime is a factor to be borne in mind to decide the possibility of reformation of the Petitioners.

The Court, however, took note of the well-settled law that the possibility of reformation and rehabilitation of the convict is an important factor which has to be taken into account as a mitigating circumstance before sentencing him to death.

“There is a bounden duty cast on the Courts to elicit information of all the relevant factors and consider those regarding the possibility of reformation, even if the accused remains silent.”

While there was no reference to the possibility of reformation of the Petitioners, nor had the State procured any evidence to prove that there is no such possibility with respect to the Petitioners, the Court took note of certain factors like the socio-economic background of the Petitioners, the absence of any criminal antecedents, affidavits filed by their family and community members with whom they continue to share emotional ties and the certificate issued by the Jail Superintendent on their conduct during their long incarceration of 14 years.

Noticing that it cannot be said that there is no possibility of reformation of the Petitioners, foreclosing the alternative option of a lesser sentence and making the imposition of death sentence imperative, the Court converted the sentence imposed on the Petitioners from death to life imprisonment of 30 years.

[Mofil Khan v. State of Jharkhand, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1136, decided 26.11.2021]


For petitioners: Senior Advocate C.U. Singh

For State: Advocate Prerna Singh

*Judgment by: Justice L. Nageswara Rao

Know Thy Judge| Justice L. Nageswara Rao

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

Op EdsOP. ED.

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment[1].”

The tussle between the proponents of death penalty and those against it is unrelenting. While the advocates in favour of capital punishment justify their stand on the basis of the deterrent and retributive principles of criminal jurisprudence, and those against it, term death penalty as “barbaric” and a rudiment of uncivilised thought process. Significantly, the Law Commission of India in its 262nd Report[2], inter alia, concluded, “death penalty does not serve the penological goal of deterrence any more than life imprisonment” and accordingly, recommended for the abolition of death penalty for all crimes, “other than terrorism related offences and waging war”. However, despite such recommendation(s), capital punishment continues to remain under the statute books as one of the forms of sanctions, which may be inflicted upon the convicts of serious offences. In fact, even the Supreme Court[3] has consistently upheld the constitutional validity of death penalty by noting, “so far the death penalty remains in the Penal Code the courts cannot be held to commit any illegality in awarding death penalty in appropriate cases”. Nevertheless, court’s power to grant capital punishment is not unrestrained, rather, is required to abide by the strict parameters of law and judicial precedents. Further, the Supreme Court[4] has unswervingly professed,

  1. … A real and abiding concern for the dignity of human life postulates resistance to taking a life through law’s instrumentality. That ought not to be done save in the rarest of rare cases when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed. Pertinently, these restrains, parameters, guidelines, etc., are not only applicable at the stage of actual grant of sanction, rather, restrictions extend until the capital punishment is finally executed.

The provisions under Chapter XXVIII[5] of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC/ Code) are illustrations of such statutory guidelines/principles, demanding mandatory compliance, prior to the execution of death sentence(s), awarded by Sessions Court. The Supreme Court in Union of India v. V. Sriharan[6], while dealing with the provisions under the said chapter and terming the same as a separate Code, observed, 84. … Sections 366 to 371 are placed for the relevant consideration to be mandatorily made when a death penalty is imposed by the trial court. Under Section 366, whenever a Sessions Court passes a sentence of death, the proceedings should be mandatorily submitted to the High Court,

100. … the confirmation of the capital punishment of death penalty, the whole procedure has been mandatorily prescribed to ensure that such punishment gets the consideration by a Division Bench consisting of two Judges of the High Court for its approval. Significantly, as per the provisions of Section 366(1) of CrPC[7], “When the Court of Session passes a sentence of death, the proceedings shall be submitted to the High Court, and the sentence shall not be executed unless it is confirmed by the High Court.” Clearly, the said provision, unequivocally declares that the sentence of death, passed by Session Court, is automatically suspended on a reference made to the High Court, until the same is confirmed by the High Court. However, as per Section 366(2) of the Code, the Session Court/court passing the sentence of death is obligated to commit such a convict to jail custody under a warrant, until the final determination by High Court.

Significantly, the said provision was inserted under the Code[8], pursuant to the recommendations made by the Law Commission in its 41st Report[9]. Appositely, the Supreme Court in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Admn.[10], inter alia, while dealing with the provisions under Section 366 CrPC, observed,

  1. The purpose behind enacting Sub-section (2) Section 366 is to make available the prisoner when the sentence is required to be executed. He is to be kept in jail custody. But this custody is something different from custody of a convict suffering simple or rigorous imprisonment. He is being kept in jail custody for making him available for execution of the sentence as and when that situation arises. Similarly, the Supreme Court in Triveniben v. State of Gujarat[11], reiterated, 21. … prisoner who is sentenced to death and is kept in jail custody under a warrant under Section 366(2) is neither serving rigorous imprisonment nor simple imprisonment. In substance he is in jail so that he is kept safe and protected with the purpose that he may be available for execution of the sentence.

Pertinently, as per the provisions of Section 369 of the Code[12], the death reference(s) made by the Court of Session to the High Court are placed before, decided and signed by at least two of Judges of the said High Court, “when such court consists of two or more Judges”. However, in the case of a conflict/difference of opinion between the Judges constituting such a Bench at High Court, as per the provisions of Section 370 CrPC[13], the said case/conflict has to be decided in the manner as provided under Section 392 of the Code[14]. Significantly, the Supreme Court in Joseph Peter v. State of Goa, Daman and Diu[15], duly acknowledged,

5. … the insistence of the Code on two Judges hearing the matter of such gravity as a death sentence involves is because of the law’s grave concern that human life shall not be judicially deprived unless at least two minds at almost the highest level are applied.

However, in the instant case, considering that only one Judicial Commissioner (out of sanctioned strength of two) was functional, the court, held,

5. Even so, exceptional situations may arise where two Judges are not available in a High Court and, in that narrow contingency, the Code permits what has now happened. We cannot fault the judgment on this ground either. In fact, while deciding so, the Supreme Court unambiguously noted that the provision[16], “obviously applies only to situations where the court, at the time of the confirmation of the death sentence, consists of two or more Judges”.

Significantly, the proceeding before the High Court in a death reference is not merely a mechanical exercise. On the contrary, it is trite law[17] that in a reference for confirmation of death sentence, High Court is required to examine the entire evidence for itself, independent of the Sessions Court’s findings/views. In this regard, the Supreme Court in Jumman v. State of Punjab[18], while considering the scope of High Court’s duty and power under such scenarios, held,

10. … it is the duty of the High Court to consider the proceedings in all their aspects and come to an independent conclusion on the materials, apart from the view expressed by the Sessions Judge. In so doing, the High Court will be assisted by the opinion expressed by the Sessions Judge, but under the provisions of the law abovementioned it is for the High Court to come to an independent conclusion of its own.

Similarly, in Subbaiah Ambalam v. State of T.N.[19], the Supreme Court, while reiterating that for confirming death sentence, “the High Court has to consider the evidence afresh and to arrive at its independent finding with regard to the guilt of the accused”, remanded the matter to the High Court, lamenting under the observation,

“we are distressed to find that to the judgment appealed against this statuary requirement has not been complied with and a case involving death sentence has been disposed of in a casual manner”.

Subsequently, in State of Maharashtra v. Sahebrao[20], the High Court of Bombay, reiterating the settled principle(s) of “doctrine of ‘rarest, of rare case’ ” and “sufficient cause”, professed with extreme vehemence,

15. … All the sides of this aspect of confirming the death penalty have to be scrutinised with great care and caution. The “mitigating circumstances”, always play dominant role in confirming the death sentence. The mitigating circumstance has to be gathered and or collected and to be weighed from the facts and circumstances of the case. The confirmation of death sentences therefore cannot be based only on the precedents and or aggravating facts and circumstances of any other case. The essential and relevant mitigating circumstances of the particular case always play a role of negative elements against the positive theory of death punishment.

Appositely, Section 367 CrPC[21] enables/empowers the High Court(s) to make an inquiry into or take evidence, itself or direct such an enquiry to be made or additional evidence taken by a Court of Session(s), where it, “thinks that a further inquiry should be made into, or additional evidence taken upon, any point bearing upon the guilt or innocence of the convicted person”. Further, noticeably, though, none of the provisions under the instant Chapter confer a right on a convict to be heard before the High Court in the said proceedings,

7. Even so[22], the accused is afforded an opportunity of being heard. He is elaborately heard, both on fact as well as on law. He is also even entitled to show that the decision arrived at by the Sessions Court is not sustainable on facts and law and that he is entitled to be acquitted, considering the sacrosanct principle of audi alteram partem[23].

In fact, in this regard, the Supreme Court in Masalti v. State of U.P.[24], held,

8. Proceedings brought before the High Court for confirmation of a death sentence give a right to the condemned prisoner to be heard on the merits and to require the High Court to consider the matter for itself without being influenced by the conclusions recorded by the Court of Session.

Further, moving a step ahead, the High Court of Bombay[25], dispelled the argument the term “inquiry”, as contemplated under Section 367 CrPC would not “take-in”/encompass an examination of the accused under Section 313 CrPC[26], by noting,

22. Putting such a limitation on the powers of the High Court under Section 367 may in proper cases deprive the accused persons of an opportunity to offer explanation in respect of the incriminating circumstances which have been brought in the evidence and exposing him to the risk of a conviction even if he were to have a proper and plausible explanation to offer in respect of that circumstance and put him in the peril of sufferring a conviction for fault of his.

Section 368 of the Code[27], further, contemplates that in any case submitted/referred by Sessions Court under Section 366 thereof, the High Court may either confirm the sentence or pass any other sentence warranted by law or may annul the conviction and convict the accused of any offence of which Sessions Court might have convicted him or order a new trial on the same or amended charges or may acquit the accused. Clearly, the powers conferred on the High Court(s) under the said Chapter are quite wide in nature, for the provisions enumerated therein not only entitle the High Court to direct further enquiry or to take additional evidence, in fact, the High Court, may, in appropriate case, even acquit the accused person. Significantly, as per the Supreme Court[28], the power of High Court, under Section 368(c) CrPC to acquit an accused person, “can be exercised by the High Court even without there being any substantive appeal on the part of the accused challenging his conviction” and that proceeding envisaged therein “is a proceeding in continuation of the trial”. It is to be, however, appreciated that as per the proviso appended to Section 368 CrPC, the power of the High Court to confirm a death sentence may be exercised only, “after the period allowed for preferring an appeal has expired, or, if an appeal is presented within such period, until such appeal is disposed of”. Appositely, the Supreme Court in Bhupendra Singh v. State of Punjab[29], while dealing with the scope of exercise of power of High Court under a corresponding/pari materia[30] provision, in the event of simultaneous filing of appeal by a convict and death reference by the Sessions Court, observed,

4. … if an appeal is filed by a condemned prisoner, that appeal has to be disposed of before any order is made in the reference confirming the sentence of death. In disposing of such an appeal, however, it is necessary that the High Court should keep in view its duty under Section 375 of the Code[31] of Criminal Procedure and consequently, the court must examine the appeal record for itself, arrive at a view whether a further enquiry or taking of additional evidence is desirable or not, and then come to its own conclusion on the entire material on record whether conviction of the condemned prisoner is justified and the sentence of death should be confirmed.

Mr Justice Krishan Iyer once remarked[32],

1. A death sentence, with all its dreadful scenario of swinging desperately out of the last breath of mortal life, is an excruciating hour for the Judges called upon to lend signature to this macabre stroke of the executioner’s rope. Even so, Judges must enforce the laws, whatever they be, and decide according to the best of their lights.…

Undoubtedly, task of a Judge in sanctioning a convict is quite unpleasant and even more so when it entails, depriving an individual of his life. However, there are abundant judicial and statutory parameters, which ensure that the powers conferred on Judges are not abused or misused. Simultaneously, the provisions under Chapter XXVIII of CrPC also dictate several guiding principles for the case(s) where a convict of death sentence awaits determination of his fate by High Court. Further, whenever there is any ambiguity or uncertainty regarding the appropriateness and application of law, courts have consciously and voluntarily stepped in to lay down doctrines and codes, which ensure fairness and justice. In fact, the courts have consistently professed in favour of the pertinence of the principles of natural justice in the cases even where the statutory provisions are silent and do not exclude such application, expressly or by necessary implication. Understandably, the principles of natural justice are deep-rooted and pervade even the gaping recesses of gloomy and tedious proceedings such as that of death reference(s) before High Court(s). Such principles, including a right of being hear of a convict; passing of a reasoned and independent finding/ decision by High Court, etc., are, therefore, intrinsic and inextricably intertwined with the proceedings before High Court(s) in death reference, to ensure fairness, both, explicit and implicit in such proceedings. As a famous saying goes, “Justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seem to be done.” The same holds true even for proceedings before High Court while determining/deciding death reference(s).

Advocate, Delhi High Court

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien.

[2] The Death Penalty, August 2015

[3]Vinay Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2018) 8 SCC 186

[4] Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684

[5] Sections 366 till 371 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 dealing with submission of death sentences for confirmation

[6] (2016) 7 SCC 1

[7] Section 366(1) of CrPC 

[8] Initially inserted under the corresponding provision, being, S. 374 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.

[9] September, 1969 (Vol. I)- Law Commission Report on the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. The Law Commission, accordingly, recommended, “It is noticed that when the accused is sentenced by the Court of Session to imprisonment for life, S. 383 expressly provides for the issue of a suitable warrant and the forwarding of the accused with the warrant to the jail in which he is to be confined. It is desirable that a similar provision should be made in S. 374 so that there may be specific statutory authority for holding the accused in prison after the Court of Session has passed sentence of death and until it is executed in due course.”

[10] (1978) 4 SCC 494

[11] (1989) 1 SCC 678

[12] Section 369 of CrPC 

[13] Section 370 of CrPC

[14] Section 392 of CrPC 

[15] (1977) 3 SCC 280 

[16] In the present case, the provision under consideration was S. 377 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, being pari materia/corresponding provision to S. 370 under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

[17]Refer to Balak Ram v. State of U.P., (1975) 3 SCC 219

[18]  AIR 1957 SC 469

[19] (1977) 4 SCC 603 

[20] 2004 SCC OnLine Bom 1186 : 2005 Cri LJ 2788

[21] Section 367 of CrPC

[22] Refer to Haidarkhan Lalkhan Pathan v. State of Gujarat, 1990 SCC OnLine Guj 16 : 1991 Cri LJ 1266

[23] One of the principles of natural justice and a Latin phrase meaning, “listen to the other side”, or “let the other side be heard as well”.

[24] (1964) 8 SCR 133 

[25]Kaliram v. State of Maharashtra, 1989 SCC OnLine Bom 56: 1989 Cri LJ 1625

[26] Section 313 of CrPC 

[27] Section 368 of CrPC

[28] Atma Ram v. State of Rajasthan, (2019) 20 SCC 481

[29] AIR 1968 SC 1438 : (1968) 3 SCR 404 

[30] S. 376 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 corresponds with S. 368 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

[31] Section 375 of CrPC 

[32] Refer to Joseph Peter v. State of Goa, Daman and Diu, (1977) 3 SCC 280

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: A Division Bench of Bela M. Trivedi and A.C. Rao, JJ., dismissed an appeal filed on being aggrieved by the Judgment and order by the Additional Sessions Judge and Special Judge (POCSO), whereby it had convicted the appellant-accused for the offence under Sections 302, 363, 366, 376AB, 377 and 201 of the Penal Code, 1860 and under Sections 3(a), 4, 5(a), 5(r) and 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and had sentenced him to death penalty for the offence under Sections 302, 376AB of the Penal Code and had convicted him of the offences under the Atrocities Act.

The facts of the case stated as per the prosecution before the Special Court were that the appellant-accused was residing on the ground floor of the house owned by Shyam Narayan Pandey and the complainant along with his family had been residing in the same building on the first floor as a tenant and the appellant on 14-10-2018 between 8-8.30 pm kidnapped his minor daughter aged about 3 years and 6 months (victim) took her to his room committed rape on her and killed her by throttling. Thereafter in order to destroy the evidence put the body of the victim in a gunny bag in his room and locked the room from outside and fled away. After the complainant filed the missing report in the police station the investigation officer conducted an inquiry and since the room of the accused was locked the lock was broken and the body of the victim was found in a decomposed state. After collection of sufficient evidence against the accused the charge-sheet was filed before the Special Court. After appreciating the evidence on record, it convicted and sentenced the accused as per the impugned judgment and order which is challenged in the instant petition.

The counsel for the appellant-accused Radhesh Vyas stated that the whole case of the prosecution was rested on the circumstantial evidence, the confession made by the before medical examiner as well as when in police custody could not be relied upon and read as evidence, the CCTV footages provided did not cover the entire area of the society and couldn’t be termed as reliable piece of evidence, relying upon the cross-examination which submitted that there was a shutter in the room of the accused and possibility that the gunny bag could be placed through that shutter cannot be ruled out. Lastly relying on the Supreme Court judgment of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684 and Machhi Singh. v. State of Punjab, (1983) 3 SCC 470 he submitted that the Special Court had committed a gross error in not considering the mitigating circumstances before awarding capital punishment and relying on various other cases he tried to establish that the instant case did not fall in the category of the rarest of the rare case.

The counsel for the respondents Himanshu Patel, stated that even if the case was based on circumstantial evidence the prosecution had proved each and every circumstance without reasonable doubt proving guilt of the accused and wile at the time of the investigation he did not cooperate with it and had fled to his village the next morning of the incident and the investigation officer had found the body of the victim from his room, the postmortem reports clearly described that the victim was raped in a diabolical manner and brutally murdered by strangulation and then her dead body was kept in a gunny bag to decay and decompose. Late the accused was arrested from Bihar in a train going to Delhi. The DNA profile and other scientific investigations also proved that the accused was involved with the crime. The Court, therefore, had no hesitation in holding that trustworthy and credible evidence given by the prosecution had conclusively proved the guilt of the appellant/accused, excluding any possibility of his innocence.

The Court while dismissing the appeal and confirming the decision of the Special Court stated that the abhorrent and atrocious nature of crime committed by the appellant-accused in a diabolical manner, on the defenseless unprotected girl of 3½ years, without any remorse, has left the Court with no option but to consider the case as the “rarest of rare case” for awarding the punishment of death penalty. [Anil Surendrasingh Yadav v. State of Gujarat, 2019 SCC OnLine Guj 2692, decided on 27-12-2019]

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]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madhya Pradesh High Court: The criminal appeal was filed before a Division Bench of P.K. Jaiswal and Anjuli Palo, JJ. by the accused to set aside the conviction and sentence passed under Section 363 of Penal Code and criminal reference to confirm death penalty awarded by First Addl. Sessions Judge, Nagod for a crime under Section 376(a)(b) of Penal Code.

Accused was convicted and was given death penalty for gruesome rape of a 4-year-old girl. Trial Court had charged the appellant under Sections 363, 376(a)(b) of Indian Penal Code and Section 5(j)(n) of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. Trial Court had found him guilty. Appellant in this appeal challenged the findings of the Trial Court on the ground that there was no direct evidence against him and that its finding was contrary to the law and facts. The question before the court was whether the trial court had rightly convicted accused and whether this case comes under rarest of the rare category. High Court did not find any mistake while examining of the DNA and the testimony of the witnesses was also found to be reliable. Thus, Court viewed that Trial Court had rightly convicted appellant. Thereby, his conviction was maintained. Appellant urged that he was only aged about 28 years and had no previous criminal conviction.

High Court observed that a person who was performing the pious duty of a teacher had to nurture the character and morality in children and not commit a crime against them. Court after considering the facts and circumstances of the case along with the mitigating circumstances concluded that this case comes under the category of the “rarest of the rare case”. Therefore, this appeal was dismissed and sentenced to death penalty was affirmed. [Mahendra Singh Gond v. State of M.P., 2019 SCC OnLine MP 200, dated 25-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Karuna Nand Bajpayee and Ifaqat Ali Khan, JJ., dismissed a petition on the ground that the contentions raised by the petitioners’ counsel were related to disputed questions of fact.

The Court had been called upon to adjudge the worth of prosecution allegations and evaluate the same on the basis of various intricacies of factual details. The veracity and credibility of the indictment was questioned, the absence of material which would substantiate the allegations that were contended and false implication was pleaded.

The High Court dismissing this petition held that only a prima facie satisfaction of the court about the existence of sufficient ingredients constituting the offence is required in order to see whether the FIR required to be investigated or deserves quashing. The ambit of the investigation into the alleged offence is an independent area of operation and does not call for interference in the same except in rarest of rare cases. Further, it stated that the operational liberty to collect sufficient material cannot be scuttled prematurely by any uncalled for overstepping of the Court. It has to be an extremely discreet exercise. Call for determination on pure questions of fact should be adequately discerned either through proper investigation or should be adjudicated upon only by the trial court and even the submissions made on points of law can also be more appropriately gone into only by the trial court in case a charge sheet is submitted. The Court did not deem it proper to have a pre-trial before the actual trial begun. The FIR was thus not quashed. [Seraj Ahamad v. State of U.P., 2019 SCC OnLine All 23, Order dated 08-01-2019]

Patna High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Patna High Court: A Division Bench of Arvind Srivastava and Rakesh Kumar, JJ., upheld the judgment of the trial court and dismissed the appeal, but modified the death sentence of the appellant to a sentence of life imprisonment.

In the present case, the accused-appellant was charged with committing offences under Section 302 and Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, and was also charged under Section 6 of the POCSO Act, for raping and murdering a six-year-old girl. The prosecution had provided a number of witnesses, including testimonial evidence from the informant, his wife, the investigating officer of the case, the medical officer etc., to substantiate the charges. The prosecution had also presented evidence which consisted of the blood-stained clothes of the appellant as well as the victim, the medical report containing the details of the injuries on the body and the possible cause of death.

Even though the appellant had denied all charges under which he was being tried, the defence did not present any evidence or bring any witnesses to repudiate the said charges. The claim by the defence that reliable witnesses had not been relied upon, the evidence presented had been compromised and that the presented witnesses were interested witnesses was rejected by the Court.

The Court decreed that in cases pertaining to rape and sexual assault, it was extremely unlikely that there would be any eye-witnesses. In light of the same, the Court held that the prosecution had conclusively proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the appellant had committed the offence of rape and then murdered the victim.

The High Court then reviewed the death sentence which was given by the trial court. The Court held that death sentence should be reserved for the rarest of rare cases, and since the appellant was a young man who had not committed any offence prior to the present case, the Court reduced the sentence of the appellant to that of life imprisonment, stating that it would serve the purpose which the offence committed by the appellant merited. [State of Bihar v. Hari Kishun Sada,2018 SCC OnLine Pat 1988, Order dated 02-11-2018].

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: Almost after 5 years of the commission of the horrendous crime that shook not only the nation but the world, the Court upheld the death penalty of the 4 accused persons in the Nirbhaya rape and murder case, where a 23-year old girl was gangraped and tortured in a moving bus in Delhi on 16.12.2012. She succumbed to her injuries 13 days later in a hospital in Singapore. The Court said that It sounds like a story from a different world where humanity has been treated with irreverence.

Writing down a 429 page long judgment, the Court noticed that attacking the deceased by forcibly disrobing her and committing violent sexual assault by all the appellants; and insertion of rod in her private parts that, inter alia, caused perforation of her intestine which caused sepsis and, ultimately, led to her death, shows that the accused persons had found an  object for enjoyment in her and, as is evident, they were obsessed with the singular purpose sans any feeling to ravish her as they liked, treat her as they felt and the gross sadistic and beastly instinctual pleasures came to the forefront when they, after ravishing her, thought it to be just a matter of routine to throw her alongwith her friend out of the bus and crush them. The Court said that the casual manner with which she was treated and the devilish manner in which they played with her identity and dignity is humanly inconceivable.

R Banumathi, J, emphasizing upon the need for actions against the crime against women, said that the offences against women are not a women’s issue alone but, human rights issue. Increased rate of crime against women is an area of concern for the law-makers and it points out an emergent need to study in depth the root of the problem and remedy the same through a strict law and order regime. There are a number of legislations and numerous penal provisions to punish the offenders of violence against women. However, it becomes important to ensure that gender justice does not remain only on paper. She added that public at large, in particular men, are to be sensitized on gender justice.

The Trial Court awarded capital punishment to the accused considering the gruesome manner in which the offence was committed and the Delhi High Court had upheld the decision of the Trial Court. Ram Singh, the prime accused, had committed suicide in his cell in Tihar Jail in the year 2013.

On 03.02.2017, the 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, JJ allowed the accused persons to file affidavits along with documents stating about the mitigating circumstances. However, after consciously and anxiously weighing the aggravating circumstances and the mitigating factors, the Court held that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances now brought on record. [Mukesh v. State for NCT of Delhi, (2017) 6 SCC 1, decided on 05.05.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where a 4-year old girl was raped and battered to death by the petitioner, the bench of Dipak Misra, R.F. Nariman and U.U. Lalit, JJ refused to review the death sentence imposed by the bench in Vasanta Sampat Dupare v. State of Maharashtra, (2015) 1 SCC 253. The petitioner had allegedly lured the victim by giving her chocolates, kidnapped and raped her and had then caused crushing injuries to her with the help of stones weighing about 8.5 kg and 7.5 kg.

The review was sought on the grounds that after the Court awarded him death sentence via judgment dated 26.11.2015, the petitioner has completed Bachelors Preparatory Programme offered by the Indira Gandhi National Open University enabling him to prepare for Bachelor level study and that he has also completed the Gandhi Vichar Pariksha and had participated in drawing competition organized sometime in January 2016. It was also asserted that the jail record of the petitioner is without any blemish.

Rejecting the contention, the Court said that the aggravating circumstances namely the extreme depravity and the barbaric manner in which the crime was committed and the fact that the victim was a helpless girl of four years clearly outweigh the mitigating circumstances now brought on record. Hence, it was held that no case was made out to take a different view in the matter. [Vasanta Sampat Dupare v. State of Maharashtra, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 524, decided on 03.05.2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: The Court recently had to decide on a death reference under Section 366 CrPC against the order of conviction under Section 302 IPC and sentence of death passed last year by the Court of Additional Sessions Judge, Hoogly. Also, the accused appellant had appealed against his conviction.

The accused was charged of killing his 26 year old wife and 7 year old son. The Court found that the victim lady was beaten and tortured since the day she entered her matrimonial home by her husband and other family members. Also, the accused threatened her to cut with chopper and both the victims were actually killed by slicing their throats with sharp weapon. Motive was clear and the weapon was recovered.

The accused was found guilty on trial relying on all the witnesses and circumstantial evidence proving his conviction beyond reasonable doubt on which he was awarded death sentence. The Division Bench of the High Court too agreed that the prosecution proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. The next important question that the Court had to decide in this reference was whether the punishment given commensurates with the offence and to ascertain this, the aggravating and mitigating circumstance needs to be considered.

The aggravating circumstances as noted by the Court were that the accused killed his own wife and child, that he had an affair with his sister-in-law and he killed the lady and child in response to the refusal to proposal of marriage by the sister-in-law, that he consumed country liquor in order to prepare himself to commit the brutal and cold-blooded murder and that he informed everyone that his wife was bitten by a snake after killing her.

The Court tried to consider the mitigating circumstances like the reason he consumed liquor knowing that in senses, he would not be able to do it observing that aggravating circumstances clearly outweigh the mitigating circumstances. The Court also considered it important to study from which the appellant came. It noticed that his background was neither defined nor refined. He was a truck driver, was accustomed to consumer liquor showing the strata of the society that he came from. The Court discussed that had he been educated, he could have found some other means of marrying her lady love.

The Court had to look into whether the case could be classified as rarest of rare case and cited Haresh Mohandas Rajput v. State of Maharashtra, (2011) 12 SCC 56 wherein Supreme Court observed that the rarest of rare case comes when a convict is a menace and threat to harmonious and peaceful co-existence of the society. The High Court perceived that there was no reason to believe that the appellant couldn’t be rehabilitated and reformed and it doesn’t seem that he would continue with his criminal activities proving to be threat to society.

At the same time, the Court considered that his acts did not call for sympathy and awarded 30 years of sentence without remission as granted in  Swami Shraddananda (2) v. State of Karnataka(2008) 13 SCC 767State of U.P. v. Sanjay Kumar, (2012) 8 SCC 537 and Gurvail Singh @ Gala v. State of Punjab, (2013) 2 SCC 713. The death reference was accordingly dismissed. [State of West Bengal v. Lakhikanta Adhikary, 2017 SCC OnLine Cal 197, decided on 10th February, 2017]