Abhorrent nature of crime can’t be basis for capital punishment: SC

The Supreme Court on Wednesday commuted the death sentence of a man, convicted for raping and killing a seven-year-old girl, to life imprisonment, contending that the abhorrent nature of crime alone cannot be the decisive factor for handing down capital punishment.

A bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar said: “It would have been immensely useful and pertinent if the High Court, while taking up the question of confirmation of death sentence and making several comments in regard to the abhorrent nature of crime and its repulsive impact on society, would have also given due consideration to the equally relevant aspect pertaining to mitigating factors before arriving at a conclusion that option of any other punishment than the capital one was foreclosed.”

The bench noted that the accused committed brutal rape and murder of a minor, but at the same time, it is noticeable he has no criminal antecedents, comes from a very poor socio-economic background, has a family comprising of wife, children and aged father, and has unblemished jail conduct.

Justice Maheshwari, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said: “When all these factors are added together and it is also visualised that there is nothing on record to rule out the probability of reformation and rehabilitation of the appellant, in our view, it would be unsafe to treat this case as falling in ‘rarest of rare’ category.”

The bench said it could readily be seen that while the top court has found it justified to have capital punishment on the statute to serve as deterrent in response to the society’s call for appropriate punishment in appropriate cases, but at the same time, the principles of penology have evolved to balance the other obligations of the society.

“The delicate balance expected of the judicial process has also led to another mid-way approach, in curtailing the rights of remission or premature release while awarding imprisonment for life, particularly when dealing with crimes of heinous nature like the present one,” it said in the 98-page judgment.

On trial court awarding death sentence to the accused, affirmed by the high court, the bench said that these orders could only be said to be of assumptive conclusions, where it has been assumed that death sentence has to be awarded because of the ghastly crime and its abhorrent nature. “The approach of the trial court and the high court in this matter while awarding sentence could only be disapproved; and we do so in no uncertain terms,” said Justice Maheshwari.

The top court judgment came on an appeal filed by Pappu challenging the 2016 Allahabad High Court order affirming the death sentence awarded by the trial court.

Commuting the death sentence, the court said that the accused will not be entitled to premature release or remission before undergoing actual imprisonment for a period of 30 years.

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