Commuting the death sentence of a 26 year old accused, Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice H.L. Dattu, Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya and Justice M.Y. Eqbal noted the mitigating circumstances involved in the case and noted that the case doesn't fall in the "rarest of rare category" even though the accused has committed a heinous crime.
The appeal was filed by the accused, Santosh Kumar Singh, who was sentenced to death for committing an offence on two counts, under section 302 of IPC.
The counsel for the appellant contended that the case doesn't fulfill the criteria of rarest of rare cases. He also asserted that the trial was not fair as the appellant was not given an opportunity to defend by the counsel of his choice.
The Court referred to the guidelines laid down in the case of Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab and reiterated in the case of Machhi Singh and others vs. State of Punjab. The Court in Bachan Singh laid down the following guidelines:
(i) The extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in gravest cases of extreme culpability.
(ii) Before opting for the death penalty the circumstances of the 'offender' also require to be taken into consideration along with the circumstances of the 'crime'.
(iii) Life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an exception. In other words death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inadequate punishment having regard to the relevant circumstances of the crime, and provided, and only provided, the option to impose sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be conscientiously exercised having regard to the nature and circumstances of the crime and all the relevant circumstances.
(iv) A balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances has to be drawn up and in doing so the mitigating circumstances have to be accorded full weightage and a just balance has to be struck between the aggravating and the mitigating circumstances before the option is exercised.
The questions to be asked, as laid down in Bachan Singh, are:
(a) Is there something uncommon about the crime which renders sentence of imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for a death sentence?
(b) Are the circumstances of the crime such that there is no alternative but to impose death sentence even after according maximum weightage to the mitigating circumstances which speak in favor of the offender?
In Rony alias Ronald James Alwaris and others vs. State of Maharashtra the Court noted the law laid-down in Allauddin Mian & Ors. Vs. State of Bihar, that unless the nature of the crime and circumstances of the offender reveal that criminal is a menace to the society and the sentence of life imprisonment would be altogether inadequate, the Court should ordinarily pass a lesser punishment and not punishment of death which should be reserved for exceptional cases only. The court also took note of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances as laid down in the case of Ramnaresh and others vs. State of Chattisgarh.
The Court applied the tests evolved in the plethora of cases and observed that "the appellant is an educated person, he was about 26 years old at the time of committing the offence… There is nothing specific to suggest the motive for committing the crime except the articles and cash taken away by the accused. It is not the case of the prosecution that the appellant cannot be reformed or that the accused is a social menace. Apart from the incident in question there is no criminal antecedent of the appellant."
The accused was known to the victim and her family. He used to teach her children.
He had attacked the deceased and her family members with an iron hammer and looted valuables from their house in May 2010. The woman died on the spot, while her son succumbed to injuries later. He then looted cash and jewellery from their house.
Read the judgment here.