New Delhi, Nov 10 : The Supreme Court said that the young age of victims in rape and murder cases cannot be a sole ground to impose death penalty on the convict and commuted the death sentence of a man, convicted for rape and murder of a 5-year-old girl, to life imprisonment.
A bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Sanjiv Khanna, and B. R. Gavai, in a verdict which analysed 67 similar cases dealt by it in the last 40 years, said: “It appears from the above data that low age of the victim has not been considered as the only or sufficient factor by this court for imposing a death sentence. If it were the case, then all, or almost all, 67 cases would have culminated in imposition of sentence of death on the accused.”
Out of 67 cases, in at least in 51 cases the victims were below 12 years, and in 12 out of those 51 cases, the death sentence was initially awarded. But, in review, in three cases, the death penalty was commuted to life sentence.
The top court said there is no doubt that the appellant has committed an abhorrent crime, and for this incarceration for life will serve as sufficient punishment and penitence for his actions.
It further noted: “In the absence of any material to believe that if allowed to live he poses a grave and serious threat to the society, and the imprisonment for life in our opinion would also ward off any such threat. We believe that there is hope for reformation, rehabilitation, and thus the option of imprisonment for life is certainly not foreclosed and therefore acceptable.”
The bench noted that it has been rightly pointed out by the convict’s counsel that the trial court noticed he was of young age (23/25 years) hailing from a very poor family, but did not consider it as mitigating factors.
“The high court has noted that there are no mitigating circumstances at all. We find this observation incorrect,” observed the bench.
The top court judgment came on an appeal of Irappa Siddappa, convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court. In March 2017, the Karnataka High Court confirmed the trial court’s decision. Siddappa moved the top court challenging the high court order.
He was convicted for kidnapping, rape and murder of a five-year old-girl in the village of Khanapur in Karnataka in 2010. Later, he had thrown the body of the victim in a bag into a stream, named Bennihalla.
Commuting accused life imprisonment for a period of 30 years, the top court said: “We find sufficient mitigating factors to commute the sentence of death imposed by the Sessions Court and confirmed by the High Court into imprisonment for life, with the direction that the appellant shall not be entitled to premature release/remission for the offence under Section 302 (murder) of the Code until he has undergone actual imprisonment for at least 30 years.”
The top court directed that the sentences shall run concurrently and not consecutively.