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Rape and Murder: Supreme Court commutes death penalty of convict to life imprisonment citing possibility of reformation

The appellant was charged for offences under Sections 363 (kidnapping), 366A (procuration of minor girl), 364 (kidnapping in order to murder), 346 (wrongful confinement), 302 (murder), 201 (evidence tampering) of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 5(g) (m) read with Section 6 (aggravated penetrative sexual assault) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

He was convicted and sentenced to death by the trial court and the same was upheld by the Madhya Pradesh High Court prompting the present appeal before the top court.

After considering the rival contentions and examining the material on record, the Supreme Court held that there was no fault in convicting the appellant.

However, it noted that when it came to sentencing, the trial court had denied the appellant a fair hearing by not providing him a separate hearing on sentencing.

“It is travesty of justice as the appellant was not given a fair opportunity to defend himself. This is a classic case indicating the disturbing tendency of trial courts adjudicating criminal cases involving rape and murder in haste. It is trite law that an accused is entitled for a fair trial which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the Court observed.

The judgment convicting him was dictated by the trial court on November 3, 2017. On the same day, the order, sentencing the appellant to death was also passed.

“A bifurcated hearing for convicting and sentencing is necessary to provide an effective opportunity to the accused. Adequate opportunity to produce relevant material on the question of death sentence shall be provided to the accused by the trial court,” the apex court said.

In the present case, the Court noted that mitigating circumstances were not considered by the trial court while sentencing the accused to death.

The Court noted that the appellant belonging to a Scheduled Tribes community was aged 25 years on the date of commission of the offence and used to eke out his livelihood by doing manual labour and he had no criminal antecedents. There was also no adverse report against him about his conduct in jail.

The Court, therefore, proceeded to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment.

“However, taking into account the barbaric and savage manner in which the offences of rape and murder were committed by the Appellant on a hapless 11 year old girl, the Appellant is sentenced to life imprisonment for a period of 30 years during which he shall not be granted remission,” the Court ruled

Source: Barandbench

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