"Consider Background," Says Top Court, Sparing 2 The Death Penalty

The individuals under question were a man who killed six of a family in Kerala and another who raped and murdered a minor in Maharashtra.

'Consider Background,' Says Top Court, Sparing 2 The Death Penalty

The Supreme Court also questioned the deterrence factor of the death penalty.

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court today scaled down the death sentence of two convicts to life imprisonment, saying that judges should take socio-economic factors into account before sending anybody to the gallows.

The individuals under question were a man who killed six of a family in Kerala and another who raped and murdered a minor in Maharashtra.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur said courts should also consider the pendency of death row cases for commuting their sentences, especially in the absence of any study that conclusively establishes the deterrent impact of capital punishment. "While the socio-economic condition of a convict cannot act as a factor for disproving his guilt, it must be taken into consideration for awarding an appropriate sentence," it observed.

In the first case, a trial court in Kerala had sentenced the convict -- Anthony -- to death for murdering six members of a family in January 2001. While the original sentence was passed in 2005, the Kerala High Court and Supreme Court upheld it in the years that followed. Although his review petition was also dismissed, it was eventually taken up after a Supreme Court verdict stated that such pleas should be heard by a three-judge bench to ensure the passage of a reasonable order.

The second case pertained to Wasnik, who was awarded the death penalty for allegedly raping and murdering a three-year-old girl in Maharashtra.

Commuting the death sentences, the Supreme Court said there was a perception that only the poor are awarded the death penalty. "There are a number of cases where convicts have been on death row for more than six years, and if a standard period was to be adopted, perhaps each and every person of the kind should be given the benefit of commutation," said Justice Lokur as he wrote the verdict.

While looking at the review petition, Justice Lokur also noted that the phrase -- "sentenced to death" -- can have a chilling effect on even the most hardened criminal. "Our society demands such a sentence on the grounds of its deterrent effect, although there is no conclusive study to prove that. Our society also demands death sentence as retribution for a ghastly crime, although again there is no conclusive study showing that retribution satisfies society," he said.

The Supreme Court also stated that none of the courts had considered the appellants' potential for reformation, rehabilitation and social re-integration into society.

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