Review of Death Penalty XIV

While evaluating mitigating circumstances, brutality of the crime should never be lost sight of. Perhaps, that is the lesson taught by Hon’ble Justice R.F. Nariman.

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The entire chain of events has been made out and despite this being a case of circumstantial evidence, the prosecution has clearly proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. The question that now arises is whether the Death Sentence should be confirmed by this Court.

The appellant has pleaded that the mitigating circumstances in the present case are that the accused belongs to a rural area and he is only 23 years old and has no other previous conviction, and if let out will not be a menace to society. On the other hand, the counsel for the respondent has argued that this is an extremely heinous crime committed ruthlessly and cold bloodedly and that the aggravating circumstances made out by the High Court clearly outweigh the alleged mitigating circumstances and therefore this is a clear case for the Death Penalty to be imposed.

In Khushwinder Singh v. State of Punjab, (2019) 4 SCC 415, this Court affirmed the Death Sentence of the accused. The present case consists of a crime even more shocking than that in Khushwinder’s case.

In the circumstances, we have no doubt that the Trial Court and High Court have correctly applied and balanced aggravating circumstances with mitigating circumstances to find that the crime committed was cold blooded. It is unlikely that the appellant, if set free, would not be capable of committing such a crime yet again. The fact that the Appellant made a confessional statement would not, on the facts of this case, mean that he showed remorse for committing such a heinous crime. He did not stand by this confessional statement, but falsely retracted only those parts of the statement which implicated him.

Consequently, we confirm the Death Sentence.”

Hon’ble Justice R.F. Nariman & Hon’ble Justice Surya Kant, Manoharan v. State, Inspector of Police, Coimbatore [Criminal Appeal Nos. 1174-1175 of 2019].

I do not think this is a case wherein the appellant should be given Death Penalty. The expression ‘rarest of rare’ literally means rarest even in the rare, i.e. a rarest case of an extreme nature. The expression and the choice of words, means that punishment by death is an extremely narrow and confined rare exception.

When we come to the facts of the present case, one has to but agree that the offence or the crime was brutal, ruthless and cruel. Both the Trial Court and the High Court have referred to the confession, but have not considered its implication and effect on the question of punishment as a mitigating factor.

Confession of guilt is an acceptance of one’s sin. Though psychologists are not clear as to how precisely guilt operates to produce confession, one possibility is that it tends to cure self-hostility. Pangs of conscience following the committal of an offence would normally have a role to play when the person confesses, for if a person does not feel the guilt, he would normally not confess to an act which is regarded as evil. By confessing, as an act of penance, a person may seek and beg for forgiveness. However, to make a confession can be a degrading and humiliating experience, yet the psychoanalytic models suggest that this is the first step back into society [See, ‘The Value of Confession and Forgiveness’, Carl Jung].

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Sigmund Freud & Carl Jung

The retraction by itself, I would observe, should not be treated as absence of remorse or repentance, albeit an afterthought or on advice propelled by fear that the appellant in view of his admission may face the gallows, and that the earlier confession made seeking forgiveness would be the cause of his death. A thought of doubt and attempt to retract had surfaced on account of belief that the sense of remorse, repentance and forgiveness would not be appreciated and given due regard, cannot be ruled out. Benefit in this regard must go to the appellant. The other mitigating factors in favour of the appellant are his young age, he was 23 years of age at the time of occurrence and he belongs to a poor family.

In my opinion, the present case does not fall under the category of ‘rarest of rare’ case i.e. there is no alternative but to impose Death Sentence. It would fall within the special category of cases, where the appellant should be directed to suffer sentence for life i.e. till his natural death, without remission/commutation under Sections 432 and 433, Cr.P.C.”

Hon’ble Sanjiv Khanna, Manoharan v. State, Inspector of Police, Coimbatore [Criminal Appeal Nos. 1174-1175 of 2019].