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Sentencing On The Same Day As Conviction Denies An Effective Hearing: MP HC Commutes Death Sentence To Life Imprisonment

Shrutika Pandey
13 Sep 2021 4:15 PM GMT
Sentencing On The Same Day As Conviction Denies An Effective Hearing: MP HC Commutes Death Sentence To Life Imprisonment
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While commuting the death sentence awarded to a man to life imprisonment, the Madhya Pradesh High Court referred to the jurisprudence laid down in Bachan Singh to observe that the accused was denied an effective hearing. A Division Bench of Justices G.S. Ahluwalia and Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava noted that no sufficient opportunity was given to the accused-appellant for placing...

While commuting the death sentence awarded to a man to life imprisonment, the Madhya Pradesh High Court referred to the jurisprudence laid down in Bachan Singh to observe that the accused was denied an effective hearing.

A Division Bench of Justices G.S. Ahluwalia and  Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava noted that no sufficient opportunity was given to the accused-appellant for placing mitigating circumstances on record. It was further observed that the trial court did not consider the grant of any alternative punishment or the possibility of reformation. He remarked,

"For effective hearing under Section 235(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the suggestion that the court intends to impose death penalty should specifically be made to the accused, to enable the accused to make an effective representation against the death sentence, by placing mitigating circumstances before the Court."

Background

The accused was found guilty for the offences under Section 363, 377, 302, and 201 of the Indian Penal Code, along with Section 3 and 4 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act). A death sentence penalty was inflicted on the accused of the charges as mentioned earlier by the Additional Sessions Judge & Special Judge (POCSO Act, 2012) on the same day.

Advocates Vivek Jain and S.S. Kushwah, appearing for the petitioner argued that there is no direct evidence in the case, instead the case is based on circumstantial evidence, and the chain of circumstances is incomplete. It was also argued that: (a) there are various material contradictions and omissions in the statements of prosecution witnesses; (b) no witness has proved last seen evidence; (c) DNA samples were not collected properly for forensic test and sent after delay; (e) pubic hairs of the accused were collected by cutting them with the help of a razor; therefore, the prosecution cannot rely upon the DNA report of accused/appellant.

Challenging the order of conviction, the accused-appellant argued that it was passed erroneously, contrary to law, and against the evidence available on record. Relying on Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980), the accused-appellant argued that the present case does not fall in the 'rares of rare' criteria, and thus a death sentence cannot be awarded.

State Counsel Rajesh Shukla and Rajiv Upadhyay argued that (a) the witnesses relating to last seen evidence have expressly stated the prosecution case, and despite being relatives of the deceased, there is no dent over the prosecution story; (b) the spot map prepared reflects the modus operandi of the accused and also reflects the intention of commission of the offence; (c) DNA testing has been done by following all precautions; (d) a doctor has proved the DNA profiling and has given specific finding regarding involvement of accused based on DNA testing.

They also argued that the judgment of conviction and sentence is in accordance with the law.

Findings

The Court noted that the present case lacks direct evidence; thus, reliance had to be placed on circumstantial evidence. In such a situation, where there is no eye witness, and the Court relies on circumstantial evidence, more caution has to b exercised while analyzing the evidence. Therefore, the accused's guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and the chain of circumstantial evidence should be so connected that it only establishes the accused's guilt. The guilt hold must be conclusive in nature and tendency.

The Court remarked,

"When the case fully resists upon the circumstantial evidence, then it is the settled principle of law that all the circumstances available against the accused should be so connecting that only inference can be drawn that it is the appellant/accused who is the author of the crime concerned."

On the question of the accused's guilt, the Court relied on several judicial precedents and studied the relevant provisions of IPC and POCSO Act to hold that the prosecution has proved the case beyond reasonable doubt and that the accused has been rightly convicted.

The Court heavily relied on the Bachan Singh jurisprudence to decide whether the present case falls under the 'rarest of rare' doctrine. Noting that on the same day after hearing the counsel for the parties, the accused-appellant was sentenced with death punishment, among other punishments, the Court relied on Mohd. Mannan v. State of Bihar (2019), where it was held,

"Imposition of the death sentence on the same day after pronouncement of the judgment and order of conviction may not, in itself, vitiate the sentence, provided the convict is given a meaningful and effective hearing on the question of sentence under Section 235(2) CrPC with the opportunity to bring on record mitigating factors."

The Court noted that no sufficient opportunity was given to the accused-appellant for placing relevant mitigating circumstances supported with an affidavit on record. Considering the young age appellant-accused, the Court also noted that the sentencing order does not consider alternative punishment or the possibility of reformation.

It remarked,

"The trial court did not attempt to elicit relevant facts, nor did the trial court give any opportunity to the petitioner to file an affidavit placing on record mitigating factors."

The Court further relied on Mulla & Anr v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2010), where it was held that it is open to the Court to prescribe the length of incarceration, especially in cases where the death sentence has been replaced by life imprisonment.

Noting the life possibility of a reprieve and/or remission of sentence after imprisonment for not less than 14 years, the Court chose against granting it. It sentenced the appellant-accused to imprisonment for life, till his natural death given the heinous, revolting, abhorrent, and despicable nature of the crime.

Title: In Reference (Suo Moto) vs. Yogesh Nath @ Jogesh Nath

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