Updated: Apr 17, 2019
CHOICE OF PUNISHMENT : If a court finds it difficult to make a choice between death penalty and life Imprisonment, it should opt for the lesser punishment.
WHEN LIFE IMPRISONMENT IS INAPPROPRIATE – DEATH PENALTY IMPOSED :
· “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,” a Bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee observed in its March 12 verdict.
FACTS OF THE CASE : A man sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a five-year-old in Madhya Pradesh. He had promised her family to drop her at school where his own daughter was studying, but the victim did not return home that day. The school authorities informed the parents about the absence of the child. Her body was found in a well.
Both the trial and high courts concluded the man, Sachin Kumar Singhraha, deserves death.
Writing the judgment for the Bench, Justice Shantanagoudar agreed the man has indeed committed a horrifying crime. It was both heinous and premeditated. He had gained the trust of the victim’s family on a false pretext. His intention was to gain custody of the child. By this, he had not only abused the faith reposed in him but also “exploited the innocence and helplessness of a child as young as five years of age.”
At the same time, Justice Shantanagoudar said there is a probability that the man would reform, considering he never had prior criminal record. The court also kept in mind his “overall conduct”.
“With regard to the totality of the facts and circumstances of the case, we are of the opinion that the crime in question may not fall under the category of cases where the death sentence is necessarily to be imposed,” the court held.
But having commuted his death sentence, the apex court said a life imprisonment simplictor would be grossly inadequate. Instead, it ordered, the convict to serve his life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years’ imprisonment without remission.
“We have arrived at this conclusion after giving due consideration to the age of the accused/appellant, which is currently around 38 to 40 years,” the judgment observed.
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