In Last ten days Supreme Court altered the destiny of four persons accused of heinous crime of rape and murder, as they escaped gallows to which they were condemned to Death by the High Courts and Trial Courts.
In Last Ten days, the Three Judge Bench comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Prafulla C. Pant and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, set aside the death penalty and commuted the sentence to Life imprisonment in two Rape and Murder Cases, and acquitted a person accused of murdering his wife and five kids in another Case. In another rape and murder Case, the Bench has commuted Death sentence of Accused to Life Imprisonment. In another case, the Bench comprising Justice Chelameswar, Justice Shiva Kirti Singh and Justice Abhay Manohar has commuted the Death sentence in another rape and Murder Case.
It all started with setting aside of conviction under Section 302 IPC of Govindachamy, the accused in Soumya Rape and Murder case in Kerala by the Bench headed by Justice Gogoi , which was widely discussed and even criticized. The next day, the bench headed by Justice Chelameswar commuted death penalty awarded to a child rapist from Madhya Pradesh. Then in another Case from MP, Justice Gogoi's Bench commuted death penalty of Kamlesh @Ghanti convicted for rape and murder of a seven year old girl. Two days later, a person accused of murdering his wife and five kids who was convicted and sentenced to death by Chattisgarh High Court, was acquitted by the Justice Gogoi's Bench.
In the present Case, the Supreme Court has commuted the death penalty imposed by the Trial Court and the High Court on Kamlesh @Ghanti who was found guilty of raping and murdering a seven year old girl. Three Judge Bench comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Prafulla C. Pant and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit upheld the conviction of the accused under Section 376A, 302, 201, 363 and 366A of the Indian Penal Code.
With regard to the conviction of the accused, it was contended on his behalf that the DNA report does not fully establish the culpability of the accused and leaves room for some doubt in the matter. But the Bench observed that the DNA report read with the circumstantial evidence on record does establish the guilt of the accused beyond all reasonable doubt.
However, the Court found that there are extenuating circumstances in favour of the accused, namely, the young age of the accused (26 years), the absence of any previous criminal history; the conduct of the accused-appellant while in custody and also the social-economic strata to which the accused-appellant belongs, which would not justify the death penalty imposed. Commuting the death sentence and sentencing the convict to rigorous imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life, the Bench observed: “Time and again this court has held that the imposition of the death penalty should be the only option available to the Court and the question of any another sentence must be unquestionably foreclosed so as to justify the extreme penalty.”
First Conviction and Sentence by SC under Section 376A introduced by Nirbhaya Amendment ?
The Court also noticed that Section 376A IPC, which was incorporated by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 which provides for rigorous imprisonment of not less than 20 years which may extend to imprisonment for life which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person's natural life or with death as alternative punishments for the offence under Section 376A, is also attracted in this case as the incident took place two weeks after the amendment came into force. The amendment came into force on 3.4.2013 and the date of occurrence of crime was 18.04.2013.
The accused on who was known to the family of the deceased girl, took the girl away from her parents to show her a procession. Next day she was found dead in a nearby agricultural field. According to prosecution, the accused committed rape on her and strangulated her to death.
The Trial (2013)
The Sessions Judge sentenced the appellant to death for committing the offence of rape and murder of a 7 year old girl.
High Court upholds death penalty (2013)
While upholding the Conviction and death penalty, the Madhya Pradesh High Court had observed: “While awarding death sentence, the Court has to apply the ‘rarest of rare’ test depending upon the perception of the society i.e... A society centric view has to be taken and not a judge centric view. It has to be seen as to whether society will approve awarding of the death sentence to certain type of crime and if the society centric view is applied to the ‘rarest of rare’ test, in the present set of circumstances, we have no hesitation in holding that this is a fit case where the capital sentence can be imposed. The act of the accused is not only inhuman and barbaric, but he has committed a ruthless crime on an innocent seven year old girl and thereafter strangulated her to death.”
With regard to contention of the accused with respect to non-examination of the Expert, who gave the DNA Report, the High Court had held that it is not required in the light of the statutory provision as is contained in Section 293 of the CrPC, which permits admission of the report without any examination of the Expert, who gave the report.
Read the order here.