Proper Psychological/Psychiatric Evaluation To Assess Probability And Possibility Of Reform Of Criminal To Be Done Before Awarding Death Sentence: SC

Proper Psychological/Psychiatric Evaluation To Assess Probability And Possibility Of Reform Of Criminal To Be Done Before Awarding Death Sentence: SC

The Supreme Court has held that, before awarding death sentence, a proper psychological/psychiatric evaluation is to be done by courts to assess probability and possibility of reform of the criminal.

A three-judge bench comprising of Justice Kurian Joseph, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Hemant Gupta commuted death penalty awarded to a man convicted for murder of three persons (Chhannu Lal Verma vs. State of Chhattisgarh).

The bench referred to various judgments, including Bacchan Singh, and observed that, in this case, the decision to impose the highest punishment of death sentence does not fulfil the test of “rarest of rare case where the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed”. It also found fault in the procedure adopted by the trial court in not giving a separate hearing for sentencing at the stage of trial.

Taking note of his acquittal in a rape case, the bench said: “The fact that the appellant had no previous criminal record apart from the acquittal in the Section 376, IPC, which was a false implication and the alleged motive did not weigh with the High Court as an important mitigating circumstance with respect to the criminal.”

The court said whether the person is capable of reformation and rehabilitation should also be taken into consideration while imposing death penalty. The bench also said the conduct of the convict in prison cannot be lost sight of and the fact that the prisoner has displayed good behaviour in prison certainly goes on to show that he is not beyond reform. It said: “The superintendent of the jail has given a certificate that his conduct in jail has been good. Thus, there is a clear indication that despite having lost all hope, yet no frustration has set on the appellant. On the contrary, there was a conscious effort on his part to lead a good life for the remaining period. A convict is sent to jail with the hope and expectation that he would make amends and get reformed. That there is such a positive change on a death row convict, in our view, should also weigh with the Court while taking a decision as to whether the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed.”

The bench also gave this advice to prosecution: “In the matter of probability and possibility of reform of a criminal, we do not find that a proper psychological/psychiatric evaluation is done. Without the assistance of such a psychological/psychiatric assessment and evaluation it would not be proper to hold that there is no possibility or probability of reform. The State has to bear in mind this important aspect while proving by evidence that the convict cannot be reformed or rehabilitated.”

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