In its recent judgment, the Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence of a man who was accused of raping and murdering his two and a half-year-old niece.
While passing the judgement, the Court remarked that the accused did not consciously cause injury and there was no intent to extinguish the life of the victim.
The death sentence awarded to the accused was commuted to life imprisonment by a Bench comprising Hon’ble Justice U.M Lalit, Hon’ble Justice Krishna Murari and Hon’ble Justice Indu Malhotra.
Background of the Case:-
Uncle of the victim Shatrugna Baban Meshram was convicted by the Trial Court u/s 376(a), 302,376(1), (2)f, and (m) of the Indian Penal Code and u/s 6 of POCSO Act. he was sentenced to death for his crimes. The High Court dismissed the appeal filed by the accused.
Aggrieved, the accused moved the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Reasoning of the Supreme Court
After going through the evidence on record, the Supreme Court observed that it had been proved without a doubt that the accused had raped and murdered the victim and due to the resultant injury, the victim passed away.
The Court further observed that the accused must have known that the victim will die or sustain a bodily injury that might lead to her death, but still, he committed the crime and therefore the case comes within the parameters Section 300 of the IPC.
During the proceedings, the Bench referred to a table of 67 cases that were dealt with by the Court in the last forty years where:-
- The offences were under section 302 and 376 of the IPC
- Ages of the victims were 16 years or below
It was observed that out of the 67 cases in 51 cases, the age of the victim was below twelve years, and in 12 out of 51 cases, the death sentence was initially awarded. However, in three cases, the death sentence was commuted to a life sentence in a review.
The Court noted that just because there has been an infraction of Section 235(2) of the IPC, the death sentence should not be commuted to life in prison.
On the issue that if in cases of circumstantial evidence, can the death penalty be imposed, the Bench held that just because the case was based on circumstantial evidence, there was no reason to commute the death sentence. Still, the Court should consider whether the circumstantial evidence was of an impeachable character and if the option of a lesser sentence was foreclosed.
Hon’ble Judges observed that circumstances are clear, conclusive and consistent, and the guilt of the accused has been proved without a shadow of a doubt. The Court also remarked that based on the intensity of the assault and nature of injuries makes the present case an exceptional one.
The Court held that even though the conduct of the accused was brutal, it has been established that he did not cause injury to kill the victim and in such cases, it is very rare that the sentence is awarded.
Decision of the Apex Court:-
Supreme Court, in the instant case, held that the accused did not deserve the death penalty for the said offence.
Title: Shatrughna Baban Meshram vs the State of Maharashtra
Case No.: Crl. Appeal No. 763-764 of 2016
Coram: Hon’ble Justice U.M Lalit, Hon’ble Justice Krishna Murari and Hon’ble Justice Indu Malhotra
Counsel: Sr. Adv Sonia Mathur and Adv Sushil Karanjkar