Thursday, May 30, 2019

HC sends death penalty ruling back to trial court (Maharashtra)

Mumbai, Apr 25, 2019

Three years after a Thane court awarded death penalty to a man for raping and murdering a 7-year-old girl, the Bombay High Court Thursday remanded the case back to it on account of procedural lapses.

A bench of justices B P Dharmadhikari and P D Naik set aside the trial court's order awarding Atul Rama Lote death penalty Thursday. It remanded the case back to the trial court, asking it to reconsider the facts and evidence and decide whether to hold a retrial or proceed anew from the stage of framing of charges -- when procedural lapses were committed. On September 28, 2016, the Thane court awarded Lote death sentence. He was accused of abducting, raping and killing the minor daughter of an acquaintance in 2014.

When the state government's petition seeking confirmation of death sentence was taken up by the High Court, Lote's lawyer Yug Chaudhary pointed out certain lapses. In February 2014, the police charge sheeted Lote under IPC sections 363 (kidnapping), 366 (A) (kidnapping a minor girl with the intent of forcing her to have intercourse), 376 (rape) and 302 (murder), Chaudhary said. Generally, these offences attract life imprisonment or ten years in jail, and death is awarded only in the "rarest of rare cases", he argued.

On September 26, 2016, two days before the sentence was passed, the prosecution invoked section 376(2) of the IPC (rape of a victim under 12 years of age) and provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, making it a case fit for death penalty, the lawyer pointed out. The court should not have permitted amendment of charges just two days before the verdict, Chaudhary said. He also argued that Lote did not get proper legal assistance from his lawyers, appointed through Legal Aid. The high court said it could not overlook these procedural lapses and especially the fact that two key charges were pressed only two days before the verdict. It, however, refused to acquit Lote, and said instead the trial court must consider Lote as an undertrial and reexamine the proceedings.

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