No Life Imprisonment If Kidnapper Took Good Care of the Child or Didn’t Threaten: Supreme Court

On Monday, the Supreme Court held that if a person kidnaps a child for ransom but takes good care of him/her and does not threaten to kill or hurt him/her in order to extort money from his parents, he cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment under Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code.

Counsel for the appellant submitted that the prosecution failed to prove all ingredients for conviction under Section 364A, hence the conviction under Section 364A is not sustainable. He further submitted that there was neither any evidence nor any findings returned by the Courts below that any threat was extended by the accused to cause death or hurt to the victim nor his conduct gave rise to reasonable apprehension that such person may be put to death or hurt. 

Questions Framed by the Court:

  • What are the essential ingredients of Section 346A to be proved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution for securing the conviction of an accused under Section 364A IPC? 
  • Whether each and every ingredient as mentioned under Section 364A needs to be proved for securing conviction under Section 364A and non-establishment of any of the conditions may vitiate the conviction under Section 364A IPC? 
  • Whether the learned Sessions Judge as well as the High Court recorded any finding that all ingredients of Section 364A were proved by the prosecution?
  • Whether there was any evidence or findings by the Courts below that the accused had threatened to cause death or hurt to the  victim or by his conduct gave rise to a reasonable apprehension that victim may be put to death or hurt?

Decision

After reviewing the law and significant judgements, a bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice R Subhash Reddy concluded   that the basic factors to convict an accused under Section 364A that are required to be proven by prosecution are as follows:-

Ii) Kidnapping or abduction of any person or keeping a person in detention after such kidnapping or abduction; and 

(ii) threatens to cause death or hurt to such person, or by his conduct gives rise to a reasonable apprehension that such person may be put to death or hurt or; 

(iii) causes hurt or death to such person in order to compel the Government or any foreign State or any Governmental organization or any other person to do or abstain from doing any act or to pay a ransom.

In reference to the harsh punishment of life in prison or execution for convictions under Section 364A, the court stated, “In addition to the first criteria, either condition (ii) or (iii) must be shown (against the accused), failing which conviction under Section 364A cannot be upheld.”

Background

In August 2015, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court confirmed the constitutional legality of Section 364A, which was placed into the IPC in 1993 by parliament in response to the increasing incidence of abduction for ransom and execution of hostages, particularly by terror organisations.

In the present case, an auto driver kidnapped a sixth-grade student from St Mary’s High School in Secunderabad under the guise of dropping him home. He had kidnapped the youngster and demanded a ransom of Rs 2 lakhs. When the child’s father went to pay the ransom, decoy policeman freed him. Both the youngster and his father stated in their depositions before the trial court that while the kidnapper treated the boy well, he never threatened to murder or injure the boy.

However, both the trial court and the High Court convicted the auto driver under Section 364A of the IPC and sentenced him to life in prison. The auto driver appealed the judgement, claiming that there was no threat to the hostage’s life and thus he could only be convicted under Section 363, which carried a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

In his cross-examination, the father maintained, “my son was not physically harmed… My son made no complaints to me regarding inappropriate behaviour or assault. My son was kept in good health and was not subjected to any problems.” In his deposition, the kidnapped boy stated to the trial court, “I was not molested, stabbed, or beaten.” They (the kidnapper’s family) were quite nice to me.”

Setting aside the conviction under Section 364A and life sentence, the bench of Justices Bhushan and Reddy stated, “we are satisfied that the appellant deserves to be sentenced to seven years imprisonment and obliged to pay a fine of Rs 5,000.”

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