NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has directed release of a death row convict in a rape-cum-murder case after finding that he was a juvenile on the date of commission of the offence.
A bench of justices B R Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol, however, upheld his conviction in the case.
“The conviction of the appellant is upheld; however, the sentence is set aside. Further as the appellant at present would be more than 20 years old, there would be no requirement of sending him to the JJB or any other child care facility or institution. Appellant is in judicial custody. He shall be released forthwith,” the bench said.
The appellant was held guilty in a December 2017 rape and murder case in Madhya Pradesh.
The bench declared the conviction in the case cannot be held to be vitiated in law merely because the inquiry was not conducted by Juvenile Justice Board (JJB).
“It is only the question of sentence for which the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015, would be attracted and any sentence in excess of what is permissible under the 2015 Act will have to be accordingly amended as per the provisions of the 2015 Act. Otherwise, the accused who has committed a heinous offence and who did not claim juvenility before the Trial Court would be allowed to go scot-free,” the bench said.
The Madhya Pradesh High Court, in the case, had upheld the death sentence awarded by the lower court and dismissed the appeal filed by the appellant challenging his conviction and sentence.
During the pendency of the appeals, he filed an application claiming juvenility and consequently the benefits available under the provisions of the 2015, Act.
The bench said the appellant is held to be less than 16 years, and therefore, the maximum punishment that could be awarded is up to three years.
“The appellant has already undergone more than five years. His incarceration beyond three years would be illegal, and therefore, he would be liable to be released forthwith on this count also,” the court said.
A report from the Court of First Additional Sessions Judge, Manawar, District Dhar, Madhya Pradesh on October 27, 2022, along with all the material evidence both documentary and oral stated that the appellant was aged 15 years, 4 months and 20 days on the date of the incident.