Current Trends In Law “Commuting Death Sentence”

Through the judgment of the case- Santosh Maruti Mane  v. The State of Maharashtra, delivered on January 9, 2019, Justice A.K.Sikri, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice M.R.Shah, at the Supreme Court, have  commuted the death sentence to the appellant and substituted it with the sentence of life imprisonment, observing that there is every possibility of his reform. In fact, he may be a reformed person already, as the Court has been informed that the appellant is regretting his action taken in undue palpitation.

In support of its conclusion, the Court observed further it does not agree with the High Court that the appellant has become a menace and threat to the harmonious and peaceful existence of the society or that it is a rarest of rare case.

The appellant was working as a driver in the MSRTC since August 8, 1999and, at the relevant time, he was working with Swargate S.T. Depot , Pune. On January 25, 2012, the appellant had requested  Shashikant  Damkale , who was Asst. Traffic Controller of Swargate Depot , to change his duty from night out duty to single day duty. After Damkale declined his request , he quietly walked out of his office and went to S.T. Bus which was standing in the Depot, entered it along with the key which was available with him, started the said bus and hijacked it.

He took two rounds in the Bus Depot during which he knocked down and crushed to death 2 to 3 people. When he was asked by the was asked to stop the bus by the officers of the S.T. Depot , he took out the S.T. Bus, drove the vehicle on circuitous route for about 14 to 16 kilometers, killed another six people in the process of driving the vehicle in the most reckless manner, grievously injured 36 persons, some of whom are permanently disabled, and damaged the public property by driving his S.T. Vehicle over rickshaws, scooters , cars, electric poles until he was finally stopped and apprehended by a Policeman who entered the S.T. Bus from one of the windows.

The Court noted that insofar as the incident in question is concerned, there is no dispute about the same and further, the prosecution was able to prove this incident beyond a reasonable doubt by leading cogent and credible evidence.

The entire case set up by the appellant before the courts below as well as in this appeal is that he was a person of unsound mind and did not know as what he had done and, therefore, he should have been given the benefit of section 84 of the IPC.

In support of his submission, the appellant’s counsel referred to the medical evidence produced before the trial court. He had submitted that immediately after the incident in question, when the appellant was apprehended, he was produced for medical examination and examined by 4 doctors, three of them were general physicians and one was a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist, who had examined the appellant was not produced as a witness by the prosecution during the trial.

The counsel had referred to the medical examination conducted by one Dr. S.J. Mahamuni ,another psychiatrist in Regional Mental Hospital,Pune , two days after his arrest, that is, January 27,2012.Relying upon the said evidence, it is argued that as per this doctor , at the time of his examination, the appellant was having blunt thoughts, delusion of persecution, delusion of black magic, no guilt/remorse on the incident and  anditory  hallucination  ( making verbal sounds as if somebody is throwing him on the ground and beating  him).

This evidence, according to the counsel would show that the appellant was not in a normal state of mind, when the incident took place. The counsel submitted that, no doubt, the burden was on the appellant to prove his insanity by producing evidence in accordance with section 84 of the IPC. However, the counsel argued even when the evidence is brought, which throws some doubts, that accused is insane, the ultimate burden which is always upon the prosecution to prove the guilt beyond reasonable doubt, which the prosecution has not discharged in this case.

On the other hand, the prosecution counsel relied upon the discussion in the judgment of the HC and, according to him, The HC considered all the aspects and nuances of the matter and came to the conclusion that the appellant could not prove that he was insane and, therefore, was rightly denied the benefit of section 84 IPC. His further submission was that, in fact, the occurrence of the incident had been proved by sufficient evidence.

After perusing the judgments of the courts below and going through the records, The Supreme Court has been of the opinion that the courts below have rightly rejected the defence of the appellant based on section 84 of the IPC. Even in the judgment in the case of Dayabhai Chhaganbhai Thakker  v. State of Gujarat  (1964) 7 SCR 361,cited by the appellant’s counsel the doctrine of proof has been stated in the context of the plea of insanity having regard to the section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act , onus is upon the defence to produce the evidence to make out the case to get it covered under the provisions of section 84 of the IPC. It is worthwhile to mention that even in that case, on merits, the Court found absence of sufficient evidence to attract the provisions of section 84 of the IPC.

In this case, the HC has discussed the entire evidence on this issue including the one referred to by the appellant and after analyzing the same has held this aspect against the appellant. The Supreme Court did not find any error in the approach adopted by the HC in discussing those aspects. As a result, insofar as the conviction of the appellant is concerned, the same stands.

Now adverting to the issue of imposing death sentence given by the trial court and affirmed by the HC, the Supreme Court found that

even though the appellant was not able to establish  the defence of insanity, the appellant was under mental strain and stress which resulted into the said reaction   on his part. Otherwise, he is not a person of any criminal antecedents. Nothing is indicated about his propensity of criminality on his part. Further, the Court was also informed about his conduct in jail has been satisfactory.

The Supreme Court has partly allowed the appeal, in the terms as indicated above.

Adv. R.S. Agrawal

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