The judicial process would be compromising on its objectivity if the approach is to find ways to avoid awarding death penalty in cases where they passed the muster of judicial scrutiny, the Supreme Court said on Friday.
The top court, while awarding the death penalty to a man for kidnapping, raping, and killing a seven-and-half-year-old mentally and physically challenged girl in 2013, dealt in detail with the legal arguments often used by death row convicts on the issue of sentencing.
The Supreme Court said it has never been the effort of the courts to somehow make capital punishment “redundant and non-existent for all practical purposes.” “The quest for justice in such cases, with death sentences being awarded and maintained only in extreme cases, does not mean that the matter would be approached and examined in the manner that death sentence has been avoided, even if the matter indeed calls for such a punishment.
“The judicial process, in our view, would be compromising on its objectivity if the approach is to nullify the statutory provision carrying death sentence as an alternative punishment for major offences (like that of Section 302 IPC), even after it has passed the muster of judicial scrutiny and has been held not unconstitutional,” said a bench of justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar.
The pursuit of collecting mitigating circumstances could also not be taken up with any notion or idea that “somehow, some factor be found; or if not found, be deduced anyhow so that the sentence of death be forsaken”, it said, adding “Such an approach would be unrealistic, unwarranted and rather not upholding the rule of law”.
It also dealt with the legal aspect where the convicts, usually, plead for the imposition of a life sentence instead of the death penalty if the cases are based on circumstantial evidence.
It said the plea seeking lesser punishment by using the concept of “residual doubt” in cases based on circumstantial evidence is not available to convicts after the conclusion of the guilt in a criminal case.
The top court said in a case based on circumstantial proof, it was not expected to reopen the chain of such evidence to find any weak link to plead for a lesser sentence for the offence.
“To put the record straight, we deem it appropriate to observe that in the case based on circumstantial evidence, the conclusion of guilt is recorded only after the circumstances are found to be forming an unbreakable chain, so consistent as to rule out any other hypothesis except the guilt of the accused,” the 129-page verdict, penned by Justice Maheshwari, said.
It said requirement being proof of the case beyond a reasonable doubt, “theoretically there is no scope for any ‘residual doubt' operating even in the cases of circumstantial evidence.” It said if there was doubt about the evidence then the conviction itself goes and there was no question of seeking lesser punishment.
“The cases in which the theory of residual doubt has at all been referred to had been standing on their own facts, where an alternative to a death sentence was considered appropriate.
"However, while taking up the matter for sentencing, it is not expected to reopen the chain of circumstantial evidence to find any weak link which may fall in the category of residual doubt,” it said.
If at all any such doubt is reasonably existing then, the very basis of conviction would be in question, it said.
“To put it in other words, after the final conclusion on the guilt and after pronouncing conviction, no concept of residual doubt as such is available for the purpose of sentencing,” it said. PTI SJK SJK RKS RKS