“The Trial Court was also in error in taking into consideration, for the purposes of sentencing, the pendency of two similar cases against the appellant which it could not, in law, consider.”
The Supreme Court has held that the mere pendency of one or more criminal cases against a convict cannot be a factor for consideration while awarding a sentence.
The bench comprising Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Deepak Gupta observed thus while commuting death sentence awarded to Rajendra Pralhadrao Wasnik, who was convicted for rape and murder of a three-year-old.
One of the circumstances taken note of by the trial court, in this case, was the pendency of trial against the accused in similar cases. The bench said: “Both these were pending trial. Notwithstanding this, the Trial Judge took this into account as a circumstance against the appellant. It would have been, in our opinion, far more appropriate for the Sessions Judge to have waited, if he thought it necessary to take the pendency of these cases into consideration, for the trials to be concluded. For ought we know, the two cases might have been foisted upon the appellant and he might have otherwise been proved not guilty.”
The court observed that while it is possible to grant an enhanced sentence, as provided by statute, for a recurrence of the same offence after conviction, the possibility of granting an enhanced sentence where the statute is silent does not arise.
“The history of the convict, including recidivism cannot, by itself, be a ground for awarding the death sentence. This needs some clarity. There could be a situation where a convict has previously committed an offence and has been convicted and sentenced for that offence. Thereafter, the convict commits a second offence for which he is convicted and sentence is required to be awarded. This does not pose any legal challenge or difficulty. But, there could also be a situation where a convict has committed an offence and is under trial for that offence. During the pendency of the trial he commits a second offence for which he is convicted and in which sentence is required to be awarded.”
The bench disagreed with the observation made in Gurmukh Singh v. State of Haryana that one of the relevant factors for consideration before awarding an appropriate sentence to the convict would be the number of other criminal cases pending against him.
“In our opinion, this does not lay down the correct law since it overlooks the presumption of innocence,” the court said.
Read the Judgment Here