SC commutes death sentence of a man who raped and killed a 5-year-old to 25 years’ imprisonment. Here’s why

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, MM Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee, JJ has commuted the death sentence to 25 years’ imprisonment without remission in a case where the convict had raped and killed a 5-year-old girl. The Court said that there was scope of reformation considering that there was no prior offending history and also keeping in mind his overall conduct.

Factual background:

  • Child and her uncle travelled from their native place to the child’s school in the vehicle owned and driven by the accused
  • Uncle gave the custody of the child to the accused upon the assurance of the accused that he would take the child to school safely as had to pay his own daughter’s fees in the same school.
  • When the child did not return home that day an FIR was launched and the accused was apprehended after two days.
  • The school bag and the dead body of the deceased were recovered at the instance of the accused pursuant to the disclosure statement.
  • The accused also assigned a false explanation about leaving the company of the victim that he parted with the company of the child by leaving her at school and hence did not know what happened subsequently. However, the attendance register showed that the child had not come to school that day.

Aggravating/Mitigating Circumstances:

“life imprisonment is the rule to which the death penalty is the exception. The death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inappropriate punishment, having regard to the relevant facts and circumstances of the crime.”

Considering all the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the Court said that the accused has committed a heinous offence in a premeditated manner, as is indicated by the false pretext given to the victim’s uncle to gain custody of the victim.

“He not only abused the faith reposed in him by the PW4, but also exploited the innocence and helplessness of a child as young as five years of age. At the same time, we are not convinced that the probability of reform of the accused/appellant is low, in the absence of prior offending history and keeping in mind his overall conduct.”

With regard to the totality of the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court held that the crime in question may not fall under the category of cases where the death sentence is necessarily to be imposed.

Commuted Sentence:

Keeping in mind the aggravating circumstances of the crime as recounted above the Court said that the sentence of life imprisonment simpliciter would be grossly inadequate in the instant case. It hence, held:

“we deem it proper to impose a sentence   of   life   imprisonment   with   a   minimum   of   25   years’ imprisonment (without remission). The imprisonment of about four years as already undergone by the accused/appellant shall be set off. We have arrived at this conclusion after giving due consideration to the age of the accused/appellant, which is currently around 38 to 40 years.”

[Sachin Kumar Sighraha v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 363, decided on 12.03.2019]

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