Thursday, May 30, 2019

Death only when life term inadequate: Supreme Court

Amit Anand Choudhary
TNN | Mar 13, 2019, 03.34 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Holding that the death sentence should be awarded for heinous crimes only when life imprisonment appears to be wholly inadequate, the Supreme Court on Tuesday spared a man from the gallows and sentenced him to 25 years in jail for raping and killing a minor girl in 2015. A bench of Justices NV Ramana, M M Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee convicted a school bus driver who had raped and murdered the child in Jabalpur and refused to give credence to some discrepancies in the statement of witnesses. 

It said traditional dogmatic hypertechnical approach has to be replaced by a rational, realistic and genuine approach for administering justice in a criminal trial. The accused had taken the ground that there were procedural lapses on the part of police and his alleged confession, which led to the recovery of the victim’s body, was liable to be rejected as the panchnama was drawn at the police station and not at the spot from where the body was recovered. He said the prosecution’s case mainly rests on the last-seen circumstances, but the said circumstance has not been duly proved. 

Benefit of doubt must not be fanciful: SC

The court, however, rejected his plea and said there was sufficient evidence to prove his guilt and upheld the trial court and HC’s order of conviction. But the bench commuted the punishment to 25 years’ imprisonment without remission. “As has been well-settled, life imprisonment is the rule to which the death penalty is the exception. The death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inappropriate punishment having regard to the relevant facts and circumstances of the crime,” the bench said. Rejecting the plea of the accused for granting him the benefit of the doubt, the bench said courts are not obliged to make efforts either to give latitude to the prosecution or loosely construe the law in favour of the accused. “In our considered opinion, all the circumstances relied upon by the prosecution are proved beyond reasonable doubt and consequently the chain of circumstances is so complete so as to not leave any doubt in the mind of the court that it is the accused and accused alone who committed the offence in question. 

It is worth reiterating that though certain discrepancies in the evidence and procedural lapses have been brought on the record, the same would not warrant giving the benefit of the doubt to the accused/appellant. It must be remembered that justice cannot be made sterile by exaggerated adherence to the rule of proof, inasmuch as the benefit of doubt given to an accused must always be reasonable, and not fanciful,” the bench said.

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