Cases of Prisoners on Death Row
SC Commutes Death Sentences of 15 Convicts to Life Imprisonment
Shatrughan Chauhan & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors., (2014) 3 SCC 1
In this case, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of 15 prisoners on death row to life imprisonment. The Supreme Court acknowledged the “unbearable mental agony after confirmation of death sentence” and added that in some cases “death-row prisoners lost their mental balance on account of prolonged anxiety and suffering experienced on death row”. The Bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam framed guidelines on disposal of mercy petitions, availability of legal aid, and execution of death sentence, ruling that convicts given death sentence must be informed about it at least 14 days prior and should be given a chance to meet their family members before they are executed.
SC Acquits Person on Death Row
Dhal Singh v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2016) 16 SCC 701
Dhal Singh was accused of killing his wife and children, in view of the fact that Dhal Singh was the only one who was inside the house, and since the house was locked from inside, he was the only one who could have committed the crime. However, based on the fact that the house in his village, where the murder was committed, had a wall which was 4 ft. high, and even though the main door to the house was bolted from inside, the rooms were not locked, therefore the possibility of a person/persons, other than the residents of the house, getting into the house could not be ruled out. Further, the fact that the appellant was lying unconscious and the hypothesis that the appellant could be innocent can be a possibility. Based on these facts, as established by Sr. Adv. Colin Gonsalves while arguing on behalf of the appellant, the Supreme Court set aside the judgements of conviction and sentence recorded by the courts below and acquitted him of all charges levelled against him.
Chhannu Lal Verma v. The State of Chhattisgarh
The Supreme Court while considering the law laid down in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, Machi Singh v. State of Punjab, Santosh Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra and Shankar Kisanrao Khade v. State of Maharashtra, commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.
As per the apex court, “The standard set by the ‘rarest of rare’ test in Bachan Singh (supra) is a high standard. The conduct of the convict in prison cannot be lost sight of. The fact that the prisoner has displayed good behaviour in prison certainly goes on to show that he is not beyond reform. In the matter of probability and possibility of reform of a criminal, we do not find that a proper psychological/psychiatric evaluation is done. Without the assistance of such a psychological/psychiatric assessment and evaluation it would not be proper to hold that there is no possibility or probability of reform. The State has to bear in mind this important aspect while proving by evidence that the convict cannot be reformed or rehabilitated.
Another aspect which was overlooked by the High Court in this case was the procedural impropriety of not having a separate hearing for sentencing at the stage of trial. As per the court, “A bifurcated hearing for conviction and sentencing was a necessary condition laid down in Santosh Bariyar (supra). By conducting the hearing for sentencing on the same day, the Trial court has failed to provide necessary time to the appellant to furnish evidence relevant to sentencing and mitigation.”
For the abovementioned reasons, the imposition of death sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life.
M.A. Antony @ Antappan v. State of Kerala
The Court commuted the death sentence awarded to the petitioner in the Review Petition filed on his behalf in view of the socio-economic factors of the convict, and the fact that he was not a hardened criminal.
The Apex Court held that the Trial Court was in error proceeding on the basis, while awarding a sentence of death to the appellant by observing that he was a hardened criminal. There is no such evidence on material on record. The socio-economic condition of the appellant was a significant factor that ought to have been taken into consideration by the Trial Court as well as the High Court while considering the punishment to be given to the appellant.
While the socio-economic condition of a convict is not a factor for disproving his guilt, it is a factor that must be taken into consideration for the purposes of awarding an appropriate sentence to a convict.
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