The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed concern over the “disturbing tendency” of trial courts deciding cases involving rape and murder charges in haste as it commuted the death sentence of a man, convicted for raping and killing a 11-year-old girl, to 30 years imprisonment.
A bench, headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna, said: “It is travesty of justice as the appellant was not given a fair opportunity to defend himself. This is a classic case indicating the disturbing tendency of trial courts adjudicating criminal cases involving rape and murder in haste. It is trite law that an accused is entitled for a fair trial which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
Noting that the trial court passed the order of conviction and sentence on the same day, Justice Rao, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said: “The object and purpose of Section 235 (2) CrPC is that the accused must be given an opportunity to make a representation against the sentence to be imposed on him. A bifurcated hearing for convicting and sentencing is necessary to provide an effective opportunity to the accused.”
The bench added that adequate opportunity to produce relevant material on the question of death sentence should be provided to the accused by the trial court.
The judgment came on an appeal filed by Bhagwani, whose appeal challenging the death sentence awarded by the trial court was dismissed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
The top court noted that the accused was 25 years old on the date of commission of the offence and belongs to a Scheduled Tribes community, eking his livelihood by doing manual labour. It added that no evidence has been placed by the prosecution on record to show that there is no probability of rehabilitation and reformation of the accused and the question of an alternative option to death sentence is foreclosed.
“The appellant had no criminal antecedents before the commission of crime for which he has been convicted. There is nothing adverse that has been reported against his conduct in jail. Therefore, the death sentence requires to be commuted to life imprisonment,” noted the bench, sentencing him to 30 years imprisonment for committing rape and murder of a hapless girl.
The incident occurred in April 2017 and the other accused Satish died during the pendency of his appeal.