Justice Kurian Joseph calls for review of need for death penalty; Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta, JJ. disagree: SC

“Society’s perspective is generally formed by the emotionally charged narratives, which need not necessarily be legally correct, properly informed or procedurally proper.”

Supreme Court: The Bench comprising of Kurian Joseph, Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta, JJ. partly allowed the appeals while modifying the death sentence to life imprisonment.

The present appeals in the case were filed against the order of the Chhattisgarh High Court which had confirmed the death sentence awarded by the Sessions Judge.

Factual matrix of the case draws a picture of the actual scenarios and events that happened and leads to the capital punishment to the appellant. In accordance with the facts of the case, appellant had entered the house of Anandram Sahu, Firanteen Bai, and Ratna Sahu and caused fatal injuries with a knife. Later, appellant entered the house of Durga Banchhor with a blood-stained knife while assaulting Meera Banchhor and inflicted grievous injuries.

For the above stated set of actions by the appellant, Sessions Court had convicted him for murder under Section 302 IPC, Section 307 IPC i.e. attempt to murder, Section 506(2) IPC for threatening to kill and house trespass under Section 450 IPC. For all the stated offences he was awarded death sentence in view of the case falling in the arena of “rarest of the rare” category. Further, High Court also confirmed the conviction, while stating that “aggravating circumstances in the present case outweighed the mitigating circumstances.”

The learned senior counsel for the appellant prayed that the death sentence imposed be commuted to imprisonment for life by putting forward his submissions.

The Supreme Court while laying down its decision stated that,

“High Court erroneously confirmed death penalty without correctly applying the law laid down in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684; Santosh Kumar Satishbhushan Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra, (2009) 6 SCC 498.”

Further, it stated that the highest punishment of death sentence in the present case does not fulfill the test of “rarest of rare case” where the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed. Therefore, the Court held that the imposition of the death sentence was not the only option and hence the same needs to be modified to life imprisonment.“Till the time death penalty exists in the statute books, the burden to be satisfied by the judge in awarding this punishment must be high.” Appeals were partly allowed, commuting death sentence to life imprisonment.

Justice Kurian Joseph while delivering the judgment on behalf of the Court stated, “Having regard to the 262nd Report of the Law Commission that the constitutional regulation of capital punishment attempted in Bachan Singh has failed to prevent death sentences from being ‘arbitrarily and freakishly imposed’ and that capital punishment has failed to achieve any constitutionally valid penological goals, we are of the view that a time has come where we view the need for death penalty as a punishment, especially its purpose and practice. ”

He further observed, “It is also a matter of anguishing concern as to how public discourse on crimes have an impact on the trial, conviction and sentence in a case. The Court’s duty to be constitutionally correct even when its view is counter-majoritarian is also a factor which should weigh with the Court when it deals with the collective conscience of the people or public opinion.”

Interestingly, Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta, JJ. gave a supplementing opinion in which they agreed with Justice Kurian Joseph on all points except the observation in regard to the death penalty quoted above.[Channu Lal Verma v. State of Chhattisgarh,2018 SCC OnLine SC 2570, decided on 28-11-2018]

 

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