Tuesday, December 25, 2018

SC commutes death penalty of man who raped killed 3-yr-old girl (Maharashtra)

PTI December 12, 2018 18:22 IST

New Delhi, Dec 12 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Wednesday commuted the death sentence awarded to a man for raping and murdering a three-year-old girl in 2007 and directed that he be not released from jail for the "rest of his normal life". 

A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur observed that the trial court, the Bombay High Court and also the apex court had earlier not taken into consideration the probability of reformation, rehabilitation and social re-integration of the convict into society while awarding him death penalty. Rajendra Pralhadrao Wasnik was awarded death sentence by a trial court in Amravati in September 2008 for raping and murdering a minor girl in the intervening night of March 2-3, 2007. The trial court's verdict was upheld by the high court in March 2009 following which Wasnik had moved the apex court. The apex court had dismissed his appeal in February 2012 and later, his plea seeking review of the judgement was also rejected by the top court in March 2013.

However, in March 2015, his review petition was restored following a constitution bench judgement in which the apex court had held that appeals pending before it in death sentence cases be heard only by a bench of three-judges. While commuting the death sentence, the bench said the prosecution was "remiss in not producing the available DNA evidence and the failure to produce material evidence must lead to an adverse presumption against the prosecution and in favour of the appellant (Wasnik) for the purposes of sentencing". "For all these reasons, we are of opinion that it would be more appropriate looking to the crimes committed by the appellant and the material on record including his overall personality and subsequent events, to commute the sentence of death awarded to the appellant but direct that he should not be released from custody for the rest of his normal life," said the bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta.

Dealing with the aspect of death penalty, the bench said that the words - 'sentenced to death' - would have a chilling effect on anyone, including a hardened criminal and though the society demands such punishment, there was no conclusive study on its deterrent impact. It said there were views which suggest that punishment for a crime must be looked at with a more "humanitarian lens" and the causes for driving a person to commit a heinous crime must be explored. "There is also a view that it must be determined whether it is possible to reform, rehabilitate and socially reintegrate into society even a hardened criminal along with those representing the victims of the crime," it said. "These conflicting views make it very difficult for courts to take a decision and without expert evidence on the subject, courts are ill-equipped to form an objective opinion," the bench said.

Referring to various judgements rendered by the court earlier, the bench observed the law clearly and unequivocally mandates that probability that a convict can be reformed and rehabilitated in society must be seriously and earnestly considered by the courts before awarding death sentence. "Therefore, we should not forget that the criminal, however ruthless he might be, is nevertheless a human being and is entitled to a life of dignity notwithstanding his crime. Therefore, it is for the prosecution and the courts to determine whether such a person, notwithstanding his crime, can be reformed and rehabilitated," it said. The bench noted that there could be instances where the social re-integration of the convict may not be possible and in such a case, the option of a long duration of imprisonment was permissible. "In other words, directing imprisonment for a period greater than 14 years (say 20 or 25 years) could unquestionably foreclose the imposition of a sentence of death, being an alternative option to capital punishment," it said.

It said the remarkable technological advancements in forensic science and scientific investigations must be fully used and the "archaic methods" of probe must be given up. The court said mere pendency of one or more criminal cases against a convict cannot be a factor for consideration while awarding a sentence as it violates the fundamental presumption of innocence – a human right - that everyone is entitled to. "It must be appreciated that a sentence of death should be awarded only in the rarest of rare cases, only if an alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed and only after full consideration of all factors keeping in mind that a sentence of death is irrevocable and irretrievable upon execution," it said. The bench, while noting that there were more than one criminal case against the convict, expressed shock and anguish that he had the opportunity to commit the offences alleged against him on more than one occasion. "This could have been possible only if the appellant had been on bail and our shock and anguish is that in the background of the facts before us, the appellant was actually granted bail," it said.

Source: https://www.theweek.in/wire-updates/national/2018/12/12/lgd12-sc-death.html (Accessed 25 December 2018)

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