26 May 2020


Judgments

Supreme Court

Sudam Vs. The State of Maharashtra

MANU/SC/1354/2019

01.10.2019

Criminal

Punishment of life imprisonment is not unquestionably foreclosed in spite of gravity and barbarity of offence

The instant review proceedings pertain to Review Petition seeking to review the final judgment passed by this Court confirming conviction under Sections 201 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Vide the impugned judgment, present Court upheld the sentence under Section 201, of IPC and the death sentence under Section 302 of IPC imposed upon the Petitioner.

Learned Counsel for the Petitioner argued for the acquittal of the Petitioner, contending that, there are various infirmities in how the material on record has been appreciated by the Courts, in addition to highlighting errors apparent on the face of the record.

The entire case of the prosecution is built upon circumstantial evidence. Present Court, in appeal, affirmed the findings of the Courts below regarding the conviction of the Petitioner. There is no ground for interference with any finding of the Courts with respect to the appreciation of the testimony relating to the "last seen" circumstance, the extra judicial confession made to PW-9, and the motive of the Petitioner.

The evidence relied upon in the instant case is purely circumstantial, including the motive to commit the offence, the circumstance of the deceased being last seen with the Petitioner, and two extra-judicial confessions. Thus, keeping aside the extra-judicial confession to PW-6, it is evident that evidence as to the circumstance of motive, the "last seen" circumstance as well as one extra-judicial confession still survive. The chain of circumstances establishing the guilt of the Petitioner beyond reasonable doubt is not materially affected even if present Court discard one of the two extra-judicial confessions. Thus, present Court rightly affirmed the conviction of the Petitioner under Sections 302 and 201 of IPC, and there is no cause to interfere with finding of guilt.

In Ashok Debbarma v. State of Tripura, present Court elaborated upon the concept of "residual doubt"--which simply means that in spite of being convinced of the guilt of the Accused beyond reasonable doubt, the Court may harbour lingering or residual doubts in its mind regarding such guilt.

While the concept of "residual doubt" has undoubtedly not been given much attention in Indian capital sentencing jurisprudence, the fact remains that this Court has on several occasions held the quality of evidence to a higher standard for passing the irrevocable sentence of death than that which governs conviction, that is to say, it has found it unsafe to award the death penalty for convictions based on the nature of the circumstantial evidence on record.

The Court in Santosh Kumar Satishbhushan Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra further observed that, the irrevocable punishment of death must only be imposed when there is no other alternative, and asserted that in cases resting on circumstantial evidence, the doctrine of prudence should be invoked

There was a reasonable probability that this Court would have set aside the sentence of death in appeal, since the only surviving evidence against the Petitioner herein pertains to his motive to commit the crime, the circumstance of "last seen" and a solitary extra-judicial confession. In other words, it cannot be said that the punishment of life imprisonment is unquestionably foreclosed in the instant case, in spite of the gravity and barbarity of the offence. The award of the death penalty in the instant case, based on the evidence on record, cannot be upheld.

A sentence of life imprisonment simpliciter would be inadequate in the instant case, given the gruesome nature of the offence, and the menace posed to society at large by the Petitioner, as evinced by the conduct of the Petitioner in jail. As per the report submitted in pursuance of the order of this Court dated 31.10.2018, it has been brought on record that the conduct of the Petitioner in jail has been unsatisfactory, and that he gets aggressive and indulges in illegal activities in prison, intentionally abusing prisoners and prison staff and provoking fights with other prisoners. Two FIRs have also been registered against the Petitioner for abusing and threatening the Superintendent of the Nagpur Central Prison.

As this Court has already held in a catena of decisions, by way of a via media between life imprisonment simpliciter and the death sentence, it may be appropriate to impose a restriction on the Petitioner's right to remission of the sentence of life imprisonment, which usually works out to 14 years in prison upon remission. Therefore, it is directed that, the Petitioner shall remain in prison for the remainder of his life. The review petitions are allowed to the extent that the sentence of death awarded to the Petitioner is commuted to imprisonment for the remainder of his life sans any right to remission.

Relevant

Santosh Kumar Satishbhushan Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra MANU/SC/0801/2009
, Ashok Debbarma v. State of Tripura, MANU/SC/0168/2014

Tags : Conviction Death sentence Legality

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