‘Extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in gravest cases of extreme culpability’, rules the Supreme Court [Read Judgment]

‘Extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in gravest cases of extreme culpability’, rules the Supreme Court [Read Judgment]

Court lauds speedy justice in Madhya Pradesh rape-cum-murder Case; expects prompt disposal of cases specifically in cases of such grave nature

The Supreme Court has applauded the Madhya Pradesh police, Trial court and the High court of Madhya Pradesh for rendering speedy justice by completing investigation and trial of the case as also the adjudication of the appeal preferred by the accused, within months of a minor's rape-cum-murder.

A Bench comprised of Justices B. S. Chauhan and M. Y. Iqbal however set aside the Death sentence awarded by the Trial Court in MP rape-cum-murder Case and awarded life imprisonment to the accused, albeit with a condition that the accused would not be entitled to remission of sentence till he completes 35 years in jail. The Apex Court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment holding that though the accused had committed a heinous crime, it was not a case falling within the category of ‘rarest of rare cases’

The victim, a 14 year old girl, was the eldest of 4 children of an agriculturist couple, living in Jabalpur. On December 26, 2012, the couple needed to irrigate their small land-holding in the night and the accused, Rajkumar, volunteered to guard the house and children. Around midnight, he raped the eldest girl and strangled her to death. The crime was witnessed by the younger brother, relying on whose deposition the trial court awarded death penalty. The trial court considered it as falling in the ‘rarest of rare cases’ category and hence awarded the death sentence under Section 302, IPC. The death sentence awarded by the Trial Court was affirmed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh and the appeal filed by the convict was accordingly dismissed.

The Supreme Court, while commuting the death sentence awarded to the accused, to life imprisonment observed “The extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in gravest cases of extreme culpability. Before opting for the death penalty the circumstances of the offender also require to be taken into consideration alongwith the circumstances of the crime for the reason that life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an exception. The penalty of death sentence may be warranted only in a case where the court comes to the conclusion that imposition of life imprisonment is totally inadequate having regard to the relevant circumstances of the crime.”

The Court went on to hold “We are of the view that in spite of the fact that the appellant had committed a heinous crime and raped an innocent, helpless and defenceless minor girl who was in his custody, he is liable to be punished severely but it is not a case which falls within a category of rarest of rare cases. Hence, we set aside the death sentence and award life imprisonment. The appellant must serve a minimum of 35 years in jail without remission, before consideration of his case for pre-mature release.

The speed and diligence of the police, trial court and the High Court in completing their task pleasantly surprised the Supreme Court. Of the nearly 13-month life of the case, the judiciary - trial court, High Court and Supreme Court - took just eight months for the case to attain its finality. The Court said “Thus, it is an exemplar of expeditious justice in country of chronic delay by smooth functioning of investigating agency, courts and the members of legal fraternity. We expect such prompt disposal of cases specifically in cases of such grave nature”

Read the full text of the Judgment here