Concluding that the deaf and dumb convict, who had been in jail for 14 years, was a juvenile at the time of commission of the offence, a Supreme Court Bench comprising of Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice R. Banumathi affirmed the conviction for rape and murder, while setting aside the sentence awarded to the appellant, setting him free henceforth.
The appellant, Darga Ram @ Gunga was tried and convicted for murder and rape of a 7-year old, punishing him to undergo life imprisonment. Rajasthan High Court at Jodhpur had dismissed his appeal, after which the convict had approached the Supreme Court.
During the Trial before the Sessions Court, the accused had not led any evidence in his defence. The entire prosecution case, as observed by the apex Court, was based on circumstantial evidence, as no ocular incident was presented to the Court. Both the Courts had however, found the circumstantial evidence adduced by the prosecution to be sufficient to record a finding of guilt against the appellant for the offences with which he was charged.
The appellant had now prayed that he was a juvenile on the date of the commission of offence, hence entitled to the benefit of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. Since the appellant did not have any documentary evidence like a school or other certificate referred to under the Act mentioned above, the Court had directed the Principal, Government Medical College, Jodhpur, to constitute a Board of Doctors for medical examination including radiological examination of the appellant to determine the age of the appellant as in April, 1998 when the offence in question was committed.
The appellant was reported to be a deaf and dumb. He was never admitted to any school. There is, therefore, no officially maintained record regarding his date of birth.
The Board pegged the appellant's age averagely at 33 years, which meant that he would have been around 17 years old at the time of commission of offence. It was argued that even if one were to accept the average of the two estimates in the range of 30-36 years, mentioned by the Medical Board, he was a juvenile on the date of the occurrence being only 17 years, 2 months hence entitled to the benefit of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.
Pondering over the estimates, the Court observed, "In the totality of the circumstances, we have persuaded ourselves to go by the age estimate given by the Medical Board and to declare the appellant to be a juvenile as on the date of the occurrence no matter the offence committed by him is heinous and but for the protection available to him under the Act the appellant may have deserved the severest punishment permissible under law. The fact that the appellant has been in jail for nearly 14 years is the only cold comfort for us to let out of jail one who has been found guilty of rape and murder of an innocent young child."
Read the judgment here.