Acquittal Of Murder Accused

Through its judgment in the case – Ashok Kumar Mehra & Another v. The State of Punjab ETC., delivered on April 15, 2019, the Supreme Court has acquitted a juvenile, who with his father (Since deceased) was sentenced to life imprisonment on July 21, 2008 by the Punjab & Haryana High Court, after reversing the verdict of acquittal passed by the Sessions Judge, Rupnagar, on June 6, 2000.

A division bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari stated that in the Court’s opinion so far as appeal filed by the first appellant, Ashok Kumar Mehra was concerned, he expired during the pendency of these appeals, hence his appeal stands abated on account of his death. Now so far as the appeal filed by the second appellant Sukhwant Kumar– the son of the first appellant is concerned, the same deserves to be allowed, as he was juvenile, at the time of the commission of the offence, as per the information given by his counsel.

The Court has reminded that in a recent decision, its 3 –judge bench in the case Raju v. the State of Haryana -2019 (4) SCALE 398, involving a similar question, it has held :

“It is by now well-settled, as was held in Hari Ram v. State of Rajasthan, (2009) 13 SCC 211, that in the light of sections 2(k), 2(I), 7A read with Section 20 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act. 2000, as amended in 2006, a juvenile who had not completed age of 18 years on the date of the commission of offence is entitled to the benefit of the 2000 Act.

“It is equally well-settled that the claim of juvenility can be raised at any stage before any Court by an accused, including this Court, even after the final disposal of a case in terms of section 7A of the 2000 Act.

“In the light of the above legal position, it is evident that the appellant would be entitled to the benefit of the 2000 Act if his age is determined to be below 18 years on the date of commission of the offence. Moreover, it would be irrelevant that the plea of juvenility was not raised before the trial court, in light of section 7A.

“As per the report of the inquiry conducted by the Registrar (Judicial) of this Court, in this case, the appellant was below 18 years of age on the date of commission of the offence.         

“The only question before us (Court) that needs to be determined is whether such report may be given precedence over the contrary view taken by the High Court, so that benefit of the 2000 Act may be given to the appellant.

“Criminal appeal hereby stands allowed and the order of the High Court affirming the conviction and sentence of the appellant under section 376(2)(g) of the IPC is set aside. Seeing that the appellant has already spent 6 years in imprisonment, whereas the maximum period for which a juvenile may be sent to a special home is only 3 years as per section 15(1)(g) of the 2000 Act, and since the appellant has been already enlarged on bail by virtue of the order of the Court of May 9, 2014, he need not be taken into custody. His bail bonds stand discharged and all proceedings against him, so far as those relate to the present case, stand terminated.”

On examining the facts of the case of appellant No. 2, the Court has noted that in the light of law laid down in the case of Raju, appellant – 2 was born on June 14, 1980 whereas the date of offence was January 4, 1998.  

Though this fact was neither brought to the notice of the Sessions Judge and nor the HC and was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court for the first time by the second appellant in this appeal, yet in the light of law laid down by the Supreme Court in several decisions in para 10 of the Raju’s case, second appellant is entitled to raise this plea even in this appeal.

The two appeals, in this case, were directed against the final judgment and order passed by the Punjab & Haryana HC at Chandigarh on July 21, 2008 in an appeal and revision whereby the HC allowed the criminal appeal filed by the respondent – State herein and the criminal revision filed by the respondent-complainant herein by setting aside the judgment of June 6, 2000 passed by the Sessions Judge, Rupnagar, convicting both the appellants for the offence punishable under section 302  read with section34 of the IPC and sentenced them to undergo imprisonment for life and to pay fine of Rs 5,000/- each.

Appellant -1 Ashok Kumar Mehra is the father of the appellant -2

Kushwant alias Sukhwant. Both the appellants were prosecuted for committing the murder of one Inderjit Dhiman. The Sessions Judge had acquitted both the accused.

The State and the complainant both felt aggrieved and filed criminal appeals and criminal revisions in the HC. By impugned order, the HC allowed the appeal as well as the criminal revision and while reversing the judgment of acquittal passed by the Sessions Judge, convicted both the appellants and awarded them life sentence, which led to filing of these appeals by both the accused persons.

In the light of the discussion, The Supreme Court has said that it was of the considered opinion that since the appellant– 2 was a juvenile on the date of commission of the offence and though till date he has already undergone considerable jail sentence partly as an under-trial and partly as a convict, yet the appeal filed by the appellant – 2 has to be allowed as was done in the case of Raju without going into merits of the case and passing any other consequential order in that regard.

The Supreme Court has allowed the appeal of the appellant -2 and set aside the impugned order qua the appellant -2.

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