BHAGWANI VS. STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH

BACKGROUND

The Supreme Court recently voiced worry over the "disturbing trend" of trial courts issuing orders of conviction and sentencing on the same day in murder and rape cases, without giving the accused an opportunity to debate about the severity of the punishment

Justices L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai, and BV Nagarathna of the Apex Court noted that mitigating circumstances and the likelihood of the accused's reformation and rehabilitation had not been addressed by the High Court.

On the grounds of a violation of the accused's right to a fair trial, the Supreme Court modified a man's death sentence to 30 years in prison for raping and killing an 11-yearold girl in Madhya Pradesh in 2017.

FACTS

Brijlal Yadav, his wife Kalawati, two sons, and his daughter went to Anil Maravi's residence at 9.00 p.m. on 14.04.2017 to attend a Chowk Barhon occasion (naming ceremony). At around 11 p.m. they realized that there daughter had gone missing. At around 5 a.m. Kalawati found her daughter lying unconscious at the hand pump.

The scene of the crime was inspected by the District Scientific Officer, Scene of Crime Unit, Dindori, Madhya Pradesh. According to the inspection report, the deceased's body was found in a supine position with many small pieces of dry grass and Gokhru (Caltrop) in the hair on the rear side of the deceased's head. A drumstick tree's dried bark was also found in the hair. Small internal injuries were visible and on the left side and right side of the chin, there were small marks of injury. There were scratch marks on the left side of the chest and another scratch type of mark below the chest. Blood stains were discovered on both thighs, all the way up to the genitalia. Blood was discovered around anus and on the back of the thigh. On the entire back and waist, there were small scratch marks.

Asphyxia, neurogenic shock owing to neck compression, serious injuries, and bleeding at the vaginal and anal hole by forcible rape were given as causes of death.

ISSUE

An appeal filed by Bhagwani challenging the death sentence awarded by the trial court for the rape and murder of a minor girl in 2017 was dismissed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

JUDGEMENT

Satish and Bhagwani were arrested on suspicion.

The Appellant (Bhagwani) was 25 years old at the time of the offence, and was a member of a scheduled tribe that relied on manual labour for a living.

Both were dishevelled and had injuries on the body which could not be explained, nor could prove an alibi.

Charges were framed against Satish and the Appellant under Sections 363, 366-A,364, 346, 376D, 376A or in the alternative under Sections 302, 201 IPC and Section 5(g)(m) read with Section 6 of the POCSO Act. 12 witnesses were examined by the prosecution.

The Sessions Judge, Dindori convicted the Appellant and Satish for the offences charged and sentenced them to death. The High Court answered the reference against the Appellant and Satish by upholding the conviction and sentence imposed by the Trial Court.

During the pendency of the Appeals, Satish died and therefore, his Appeal abated.

The Appellant approached the Supreme Court after his plea was dismissed by the High Court.

Justice L. Nageswara Rao presided over a bench of the Apex court that included Justices B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna said: "It is travesty of justice as the appellant was not given a fair opportunity to defend himself. This is a classic case indicating the disturbing tendency of trial courts adjudicating criminal cases involving rape and murder in haste. It is trite law that an accused is entitled for a fair trial which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution."

Justice Rao, who wrote the judgement on behalf of the bench, noted that the trial court issued the order of conviction and sentence on the same day "The object and purpose of Section 235 (2) CrPC is to provide an opportunity for the accused to make a representation in opposition to the sentence that will be imposed on him. To provide an effective opportunity to the accused, a bifurcated hearing for convicting and sentencing is required."

The bench went on to say that the trial court should provide the accused an adequate opportunity to produce relevant evidence on the issue of a death sentence.


After considering the judgements of this Court in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab, Mohd. Mannan and Abdul Mannan v. State of Bihar observed as follows: -


“The Appellant was aged 25 years on the date of commission of the offence and belongs to a Scheduled Tribes community, eking his livelihood by doing manual labour. No evidence has been placed by the prosecution on record to show that there is no probability of rehabilitation and reformation of the Appellant and the question of an alternative option to death sentence is foreclosed. The Appellant had no criminal antecedents before the commission of crime for which he has been convicted. There is nothing adverse that has been reported against his conduct in jail. Therefore, the death sentence requires to be commuted to life imprisonment. However, taking into account the barbaric and savage manner in which the offences of rape and murder were committed by the Appellant on a hapless 11 year old girl, the Appellant is sentenced to life imprisonment for a period of 30 years during which he shall not be granted remission.”



This article is written by Siddita Singh Rathore of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.


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