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It Has Never Been The Effort Of Courts To Make Death Penalty Redundant Or Non Existent : Supreme Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
24 Jun 2022 1:18 PM GMT
It Has Never Been The Effort Of Courts To Make Death Penalty Redundant Or Non Existent : Supreme Court
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While upholding the death sentence awarded to a man for the rape and murder of a seven and a half year old girl who was mentally and physically challenged, the Supreme court observed that it has never been the effort of the Courts to somehow make the death penalty redundant and non-existent for all practical purposes.

"The quest for justice in such cases, with death sentence being awarded and maintained only in extreme cases, does not mean that the matter would be approached and examined in the manner that death sentence has be avoided, even if the matter indeed calls for such a punishment.", the bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar observed.

In this case, the victim was kidnapped by the convict on a stolen motorcycle by misusing the trust gained by offer of confectionery items. Thereafter, she was raped and her head was smashed, resulting in multiple injuries including fracture of frontal bone. There were gruesome injuries on the private parts of the victim.

Dismissing the appeal, the bench observed that the crime in question had been of "extreme depravity", particularly looking at the vulnerable state of the victim and also the manner of committing the crime. The court made the following observations:

The judicial process, in our view, would be compromising on its objectivity if the approach is to nullify the statutory provision carrying death sentence as an alternative punishment for major offences (like that of Section 302 IPC), even after it has passed muster of judicial scrutiny and has been held not unconstitutional. The pursuit in collecting mitigating circumstances could also not be taken up with any notion or idea that somehow, some factor be found; or if not found, be deduced anyhow so that the sentence of death be forsaken. Such an approach would be unrealistic, unwarranted and rather not upholding the rule of law.

The court also rejected the suggestion made on behalf of the appellant that his psychological evaluation report may be called. The appellant had relied on the case of Anil @ Anthony Arikswamy Joseph v. State of Maharashtra: 2014 (4) SCC 69, in which it was observed that, in appropriate cases, after conviction, the Court may call for report to determine whether the accused could be reformed or rehabilitated; and it would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case.

"Again, there cannot be any universal formula for calling for a report in terms of the said decision in Anil. For example, in the present case, where the appellant is found to be indulging incessantly in criminal activities before the crime in question; has carried out gruesome deeds of the present crime; has further been involved in questionable jail conduct, including quarreling with a fellow inmate and earning 7 days' punishment; and then, to cap it all, has been involved in an offence of no less degree than murder of another jail inmate, calling for any further report of the likelihood of reformation and rehabilitation of the appellant could be proposed only if the judicial process is determined to annul the death sentence altogether, by finding one way or the other to avoid the same in every case. Such an approach would be counter-productive to the entire system of maintenance of order in the society; and could be countenanced only if we would be inclined to think that whatever be the society's cry for justice, the statutory provision of death sentence should itself be given its interment or burial. Obviously, this approach would be squarely contrary to the statutory mandates as also the principles enunciated by multiple Constitution Bench decisions of this Court; and would strike at the roots of the rule of law. In the given set of circumstances of this case, the suggestions about calling for any so called psychological evaluation report could only be termed as impractical and unrealistic and could only be rejected.", the court observed.

Theory Of Residual doubt

The court also refused to proceed on the theory of residual doubt. It said that the question of sentence has to be determined in accordance with sentencing principles enunciated by the Constitution Bench in Bachan Singh (supra) and the principles/norms further evolved by this Court in the other decisions. Regarding the theory, the bench observed:

In the case based on circumstantial evidence, the conclusion of guilt is recorded only after the circumstances are found to be forming an unbreakable chain, so consistent as to rule out any other hypothesis except the guilt of the accused. These being stringent norms, as followed consistently by the Courts based on the panchsheel principles expounded in Sharad Birdhichand Sarda (supra), and requirement being of the proof of the case beyond reasonable doubt, theoretically there is no scope for any 'residual doubt' operating even in the cases of circumstantial evidence. The cases in which theory of residual doubt has at all been referred, had been standing on their own facts, where alternative to death sentence was considered appropriate. However, while taking up the matter for sentencing, it is not expected to reopen the chain of circumstantial evidence to find any weak link which may fall in the category of residual doubt. Needless to reiterate that if at all any such doubt is reasonably existing, the very basis of conviction would be in question. To put it in other words, after the final conclusion on the guilt and after pronouncing conviction, no concept of residual doubt as such is available for the purpose of sentencing.


Case details

Manoj Pratap Singh vs State of Rajasthan | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 557 | SLP (Crl.) No(s). 7899-7900 of 2015 | 24 June 2022

Coram: Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar

Counsel : Senior Advocate A Sirajudeen for the appellant; Senior Advocate Dr.Manish Singhvi for the State

Head Notes

Death Sentence - Death sentence being awarded and maintained only in extreme cases, does not mean that the matter would be approached and examined in the manner that death sentence has be avoided, even if the matter indeed calls for such a punishment- The pursuit in collecting mitigating circumstances could also not be taken up with any notion or idea that somehow, some factor be found; or if not found, be deduced anyhow so that the sentence of death be forsaken - It has never been the effort of the Courts to somehow make this punishment (sentence of death) redundant and non-existent for all practical purposes (Para 54)

Death Sentence - There cannot be any universal formula for calling for a psychological evaluation report to determine whether the accused could be reformed or rehabilitated - Referred to Anil @ Anthony Arikswamy Joseph v. State of Maharashtra: 2014 (4) SCC 69. (Para 56.1)

Death Sentence -The theory of residual doubt - After the final conclusion on the guilt and after pronouncing conviction, no concept of residual doubt as such is available for the purpose of sentencing. (Para 48-49)

Summary - Death sentenced imposed on man for rape and murder of 8 year old mentally and physically challenged girl upheld- The crime had been of extreme depravity, which shocks the conscience, particularly looking to the target (a seven-and-a-half-year old mentally and physically challenged girl) and then, looking to the manner of committing murder, where the hapless victim's head was literally smashed, resulting in multiple injuries including fracture of frontal bone - No probability of reformation and has criminal antecedents and also involved in crimes in jail post-conviction - There is absolutely no reason to commute the sentence of death to any other sentence of lesser degree (Para 58)

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