The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra, Rohinton Fali Nariman and Uday Umesh Lalit today heard the review petition of the death-row convict, Vasanta Sampat Dupare, currently lodged in Nagpur Central Jail, in the open court. As hearing of the review petitions of death-row convicts by a three-Judge bench is mandatory after the SC judgment in Mohd. Arif case, Dupare’s senior counsel, Anup Bhambhani got the opportunity to make his submissions before the bench.
Dupare’s death sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court’s three judge bench on November 26, 2014. Dupare was convicted and sentenced to death for the offence of rape and murder of a minor girl in 2008.
In 2010, the trial court found him guilty and sentenced him to death under section 302, life imprisonment under section 376(2)(f), and rigorous imprisonment of seven years under sections 363 and 367 and rigorous imprisonment of three years under section 201 of the IPC, along with fines and imprisonment in default.
On March 24, 2011, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court, at the confirmation stage, held that Dupare had not received a fair trial as the legal aid lawyer appointed on his behalf was absent when four important witnesses were to be cross-examined, and Dupare himself had been asked to cross-examine those witnesses. The high court, therefore, set aside his conviction and sentence, and remanded the case back to the trial court.
On remand, the trial court again convicted and sentenced him to death. On February 23, 2012, the trial court both convicted and sentenced Dupare, though his advocate was not present, and he could not make any submissions on the point of sentence.
On March 27, 2012, the high court confirmed the sentence and dismissed Dupare’s appeal. There is no mention of the absence of Dupare’s advocate at the time of sentencing (by the trial court) in the high court judgment.
MAIN GROUNDS OF REVIEW
During the arguments before the bench today, Dupare’s counsel made the following points:
Dupare was deprived of an opportunity to make submissions on sentence as the trial court imposed the death sentence on him on the very same day, he was convicted in the case. As a result, he could not place any material on sentencing on the record. Besides, as his advocate was not present that day before the trial court, Dupare was unable to make any submissions on sentence, and therefore, doubly disabled.
Dupare’s counsel has submitted that the trial court had treated the sentencing hearing as a mere formality and not discharged the obligation cast upon it under the Cr.P.C. As Dupare studied only till class 6, legal assistance mattered most to him at the time of sentencing. As a result, he was unable to effectively canvass the points which might have served to mitigate the death sentence imposed upon him, it was argued.
Additionally, the counsel submitted that the Supreme Court had in a previous case, held that for determining the sentence in death penalty cases, material additional to what has been produced for establishing guilt is required to be produced. No such material was produced before the Supreme Court or the Courts below in the present case, the bench was told. This is an error apparent on the face of the record, and therefore, a ground for review, the counsel argued.
Another major ground for review argued by the counsel was that the State has not placed on record any material which would rule out the possibility of reform and rehabilitation of Dupare. Materials like the report of a Probation Officer, psychological evaluation etc. were not obtained, the bench was told.
The counsel argued that age, by itself, cannot be the determinant factor to conclude whether a convict is capable of being reformed. Dupare was in his mid-forties when he committed the crime. The counsel also told the bench that Dupare’s conduct in the jail since 2008 has been good. He was involved in painting, and his work had been displayed on several occasions in jail, it was revealed.
Dupare’s counsel also appealed to the bench to consider imposing a fixed term sentence, and place it beyond the application of remission powers, as an alternative to death sentence.
Last year, Dupare completed the Bachelors Preparatory Programme offered by the Indira Gandhi National Open University. This course enables people who have discontinued schooling before matriculation to prepare for bachelors-level studies.
Dupare’s case is likely to be of interest because the bench had earlier refused to remand the case, on the ground that he did not get a fair chance before the trial court on sentencing. Today, Dupare’s counsel was heard patiently by the bench for nearly 50 minutes, more than the time laid down in Mohd.Arif.
Dupare’s counsel cited a few precedents with similar factual background, wherein the Supreme Court had commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.
The bench, after hearing the arguments of the counsel for the prosecution, has reserved its judgment.
This article has been made possible because of financial support from Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation.