New Delhi: The Supreme Court has held that life imprisonment is the rule, to which the death penalty is the exception. The death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inappropriate punishment, having regard to the relevant facts and circumstances of the crime.
The apex court in a recent judgment said sentencing is a difficult task and often vexes the mind of the court, but where the option is between life imprisonment and a death sentence, if the court itself feels some difficulty in awarding one or the other, it is only appropriate that the lesser punishment be awarded.
A bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, M. Shantanagouder and Indira Banerjee said the courts are not obliged to make efforts either to give latitude to the prosecution or loosely construe the law in favour of the accused. The traditional dogmatic hyper technical approach has to be replaced by a rational, realistic and genuine approach for administering justice in a criminal trial. If a court finds it difficult to make a choice between death penalty and life imprisonment, it should opt for the lesser punishment.
In this case the appellant Sachin Kumar Singhraha was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a five-year-old girl in Madhya Pradesh. He took the child to the school where his own daughter was studying, but the victim did not return home that day. He raped and killed her and dumped the body in a well. Both the trial and high courts slapped death sentence on him and he preferred the present appeal.
Disposing of the appeal, the Bench in its verdict said âhe has committed a heinous offence in a premeditated manner. He not only abused the faith reposed in him by the parents but also exploited the innocence and helplessness of a child as young as five years of age. At the same time, we are not convinced that the probability of reform of the accused/appellant is low, in the absence of prior offending history and keeping in mind his overall conduct.â