Friday, February 6, 2015

SC has second thoughts on death penalty given by itself

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN | Nov 13, 2014, 05.51AM IST

NEW DELHI: Showing increasing discomfiture in awarding death penalty, the Supreme Court on Wednesday found two questions "bothering" it much after Sonu Sardar was awarded death penalty by the trial court, which was confirmed by the high court and upheld by the apex court, and the President rejected his mercy petition.

Sonu and his minor accomplice were arrested but three other associates in the crime escaped after almost wiping out the family of a Muslim scrap dealer including two minor children and a woman in Chhattisgarh in 2004. The three absconders are yet to be arrested. Sonu was the only one to face criminal trial for dacoity-cum-murder. 

The trial court convicted him on the testimony of a minor who escaped the attack. The HC confirmed the conviction and death sentence awarded by the trial court. The apex court upheld the concurrent judgments on February 23, 2012. Sonu's review petition was dismissed in chamber. 

But as per the new procedure laid down by the apex court, a bench of Justices A R Dave, J Chelameswar and U U Lalit heard afresh in open court Sonu's petition seeking review of the 2012 judgment. Appearing for Sonu, senior advocate Raju Ramachandran said it has now come to light that the accused was 18 years and 2 months at the time of commission of crime.

The bench's primary question to Chhattisgarh counsel Atul Jha was whether it was correct that the accused was just over the age of juvenility and not 23 years as was recorded in the judgments. The second question which bothered the court was whether it could be pin-pointed from evidence that Sonu played the major role in the multiple murders. 

"There were three other accomplices in the dacoity-cum-murder incident who are not yet apprehended. The other accomplice was a minor. It is possible that these four could have committed the murders. Can it be said with certainty that Sonu dealt the fatal blows," the bench asked and sought answers from the state by January 20. 

Interestingly, both these points were dealt with in the February 23, 2012 judgment of a bench of Justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar. It had referred to the evidence and said, "There is, therefore, clear and definite evidence in this case to show that the appellant (Sonu Sardar) not only participated in the crime, but also played the lead role in the offence under Section 396 IPC. This is not a case where it can be held that the role of appellant was not such as to warrant death sentence under Section 396 IPC." Ramachandran said the apex court had erroneously recorded that there were no mitigating circumstances in Sonu's favour. He said Sonu had no previous criminal record, he was not beyond reformation given the "tender" age, and that he had not attempted to escape despite getting an opportunity during a jail break.

He said that though these facts showed that Sonu could beamenable to reform, the state had not discharged its duty of proving that the convict was beyond the realm of reformation. Taking into account the young age of Sonu, the court in its 2012 judgment had said, "The crime was obviously committed after pre-meditation with absolutely no consideration for human lives and for money. Even though the appellant was young, his criminal propensities are beyond reform and he is a menace to society. The trial court and high court were therefore right in coming to the conclusion that this is one of those rarest of rare cases in which death sentence is the appropriate punishment." 

Source: [last accessed 06.02.2015]

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