SC orders release of man jailed for 12 yrs after finding he was juvenile at time of offence

The Supreme Court has ordered the release of a man, who has already served over 12 years in jail after being awarded life sentence in a murder case, holding he was a juvenile when the offence was committed in 2005.

A bench headed by Justice B R Gavai referred to a May 2023 report of an additional sessions judge, who was asked to conduct an enquiry with regard to the plea of juvenility raised by the man, which said his date of birth was May 2, 1989.

“If the date of birth of the petitioner is May 2, 1989, he was 16 years seven months old as on the date of the crime, i.e., December 21, 2005. Accordingly, the petitioner was a juvenile in conflict with the law on the date of commission of the offence,” the bench, also comprising Justices P S Narasimha and Sanjay Kumar, said in an order passed on September 5.

The apex court delivered its order on a plea filed by the petitioner seeking verification of his claim of juvenility and consequential orders as per the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

It said according to provisions of the 2000 Act, the maximum period for which the petitioner could have been in custody is three years.

“However, as the plea of juvenility was raised for the first time in the present writ petition (filed in 2022) before us, the process of criminal law, which commenced in 2005, led to the petitioner being convicted and sentenced for life imprisonment concurrently by the trial court, the high court as well as the Supreme Court,” the bench said.

It said the petitioner has undergone over 12 years in jail.

“Having accepted the report of the II Additional Sessions Judge, Khammam, the petitioner can no longer be incarcerated. In view of the above we allow the writ petition and direct that the petitioner be released forthwith, if he is not required to be detained in any other case,” the bench said.

The apex court noted it is well settled that the question of juvenility can be raised before any court and at any stage, as prescribed under section 7A(1) of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, and confirmed by judicial precedents.

It said the petitioner was arrayed as an accused along with others in the case and a trial court had in December 2009 convicted him and others and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

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The apex court noted the high court and later the apex court had affirmed his conviction and sentence.

It also noted that two months after the apex court had passed the order in July 2022, the petitioner filed a petition seeking a direction to the state to verify his claim of juvenility.

The bench said the state had filed an affidavit stating that the petitioner had studied at a school in Andhra Pradesh from 1st to 3rd standard and his date of birth was May 2, 1989.

“Since the juvenility was based on the petitioner’s school documents, this court considered it appropriate to direct the Additional Sessions Judge (Fast Track Court), Khammam, Andhra Pradesh, to conduct an enquiry with regard to the plea of juvenility raised by the petitioner,” it said.

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