Delhi HC commutes death sentence to life imprisonment against President’s rejection of mercy petition

Delhi High Court: The Division Bench of G.S. Sistani & Vinod Goel, JJ. following the Supreme Court judgment in V. Sriharan alias Murugan v. Union of India, (2014) 4 SCC 242 commuted the death sentence and substituted it to a sentence of imprisonment for life.

The petitioner filed the writ petition and argued the case on three grounds: (i) Delay in adjudication of the mercy petition; (ii) Solitary confinement and (iii) improper exercise of power by the Governor and the President. The Court noted that there is no unexplained delay ipso facto, which entitles the convict to seek commutation of his sentence and the total time taken in deciding the mercy petition was 2 years 2 months; this period by no means can be said to be inordinate.

However, with regard to the argument of solitary confinement the Court concluded that the petitioner was illegally kept in solitary confinement despite not being under a ‘sentence of death’ for a period of about 3 years. It was found that the convicts were housed in separate rooms with separate verandas and separate toilets. This led to Solitary Confinement as per the judgment in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Admn., (1978) 4 SCC 494.

The Court also noted that the “relevant considerations of the mitigating circumstances, recommendation of the jail superintendent and the young age of the petitioner were not placed before the Governor depriving him of the opportunity to exercise his power in a fair and just manner” and therefore there was improper exercise of power.

The supervening circumstance of solitary confinement coupled with the no communication of relevant considerations and considering of extraneous considerations vitiated the decision of the Governor and the President. Therefore, on the basis of above grounds the Court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. [Sonu Sardar v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 8928, decided on 28.06.2017]

One comment

  • It is rather tenuous to say that housing the convicts in separate rooms having separate verandas and separate toilets per se amounts to keeping them in solitary confinement if they are allowed to mingle with other inmates during meal times and recreation hours.
    Mitigating circumstances, young age etc are given due weightage during sentencing process which came to an end when the judicial process concluded. In awarding and confirming the death sentence, the “Rarest of rare ” principle is strictly adhered to, the balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances is drawn and when it is crystal clear that the alternative option of life imprisonment is unquestionably foreclosed only then the death sentence is imposed.
    As such, the Executive’s rejection of clemency petition can not be said to be improper exercise of power.

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