New Delhi, March 27 () The Supreme Court on Monday ordered release of a death row convict after finding that he was a minor, aged 12 years and six months, when he committed the gruesome” murders of five women and two children at Pune in 1994.
A bench of Justices K.M. Joseph, Aniruddha Bose and Hrishikesh Roy said: “He shall be set free forthwith from the correctional home in which he remains imprisoned, as he has suffered imprisonment for more than 28 years, having regard to the provisions of Section 18 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.”
The accused, after several attempts, filed an application in October 2018 before the apex court seeking a declaration that he was a juvenile at the time of the offence. The court then ordered an inquiry by the Principal District and Sessions Judge, Pune in 2019. The judge gave a finding that the applicant was of 12 years and six months at the time of offence on August 24, 1994.
Noting that the offence was no doubt gruesome in nature, the bench said it will go by the date of birth contained in the school admission register. “The other factor which has crossed our mind is as to whether a boy of 12 years could commit such a gruesome crime. But though this factor shocks us, we cannot apply speculation of this nature to cloud our adjudication process,” it noted.
The top court observed that it possessed no knowledge of child psychology or criminology to take into account this factor while examining the report of the inquiring judge.
The bench said that at the time of commission of offence, he was 12 years and 6 months, therefore he was a child/juvenile on the date of commission of offence and the death penalty, handed down to him by a trial court, and upheld by the high court and also the apex court, cannot be sustained.
The bench noted that the age of the applicant as revealed in the ossification test keeps the age of the applicant as claimed by him, within the range specified in the inquiry report by a district court judge.
Addressing contentions against the judge’s report sustaining the applicant’s claim for juvenility, the bench said it cannot indulge in any guesswork to doubt the entry in the school register and added that no evidence has been led to contradict the basis of the age of the applicant reflected in the document. “The certificate of date of birth as evidence of age having been provided in the statute itself, we shall go by that,” it said.
Accepting the inquiry report, the bench said he cannot be subjected to capital punishment and added: “In view of this finding, the order sentencing him to death passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Pune in Sessions Case and subsequently confirmed by the High Court and by this Court would stand invalidated by operation of law.”
In the 68-page judgment, the top court noted that the state government did not come up with any such compelling evidence which would render documents in connection with the age of the accused to be unreliable or false.