Review of Death Penalty XII

Something mysterious inside me silently tells, every exit is an entrance to somewhere else.

The instant case rests on circumstantial evidence. There cannot be any dispute as to the well-settled proposition that the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn must or “should be” and not merely “may be” fully established. The facts so established should be consistent only with guilt. They should not be explicable through any other hypothesis. There must be a chain of evidence so complete so as to not leave any reasonable ground for a conclusion consistent with innocence and must show that in all human probability, the offence was committed.

The Court will have to evaluate the evidence before it keeping in mind the rustic nature of the depositions of the villagers, who may not depose about exact geographical locations with mathematical precision. Discrepancies of this nature which do not go to the root of the matter do not obliterate otherwise acceptable evidence. It need not be stated that it is by now well-settled that minor variations should not be taken into consideration while assessing the reliability of witness testimony and the consistency of the prosecution version as a whole.

At this juncture, we would like to recall that it is well­-settled that criminal justice should not become a casualty because of the minor mistakes committed by the Investigating Officer. We may hasten to add here itself that if the Investigation Officer suppresses the real incident by creating certain records to make a new case altogether, the Court would definitely strongly come against such action of the Investigation Officer. There cannot be any dispute that the benefit of doubt arising out of major flaws in the investigation would create suspicion in the mind of the Court. As observed by this Court in Lekh Raj, (2000) (1) SCC 247 a criminal trial cannot be equated with a mock scene from a stunt film. The traditional dogmatic hypertechnical approach has to be replaced by a rational, realistic and genuine approach for administering justice in a criminal trial.

It must be remembered that justice cannot be made sterile by exaggerated adherence to the rule of proof. The benefit of doubt given to an accused must always be reasonable, and not fanciful.

As has been well-settled, 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.

He has committed a heinous offence in a premeditated manner. At the same time, we are not convinced that the probability of reform is low, in the absence of prior offending history and keeping in mind his overall conduct. Therefore, with regard to the totality of the facts and circumstances of the case, we are of the opinion that the crime in question may not fall under the category of cases where the Death Sentence is necessarily to be imposed. However, keeping in mind the aggravating circumstances of the crime: Life Imprisonment; 25 Years – No Remission.”

Mohan M. Shantanagoudar, Sachin Kumar Singhraha v. State of Madhya Pradesh, [Criminal Appeal Nos. 473-474 of 2019].