The Supreme Court has yesterday released a man who was awarded the death penalty for killing five women (one of whom was pregnant) and two children in the year 1994.

The Court after 28 years of such an incident released him on the ground that he was a juvenile at the time of offence being committed.

The three-Judge Bench comprising Justice K.M. Joseph, Justice Aniruddha Bose, and Justice Hrishikesh Roy observed, “We declare that the date of birth of the applicant as reflected in the certificate issued by the Rajkiya Adarsh Uccha Madhaymik Vidyalaya, Jalabsar, tehsil - Shri Dungargarh, district – Bikaner, dated 30th January 2019, a copy of which has been annexed in the Inquiry Report as “I-2”, is to be accepted for determining his age at the time of commission of the offence of which he has been convicted. Going by that certificate, his age at the time of commission of offence was 12 years and 6 months. Thus, he was a child/juvenile on the date of commission of offence for which he has been convicted, in terms of the provisions of the 2015 Act.”

The Bench said that the convict had already served more than 3 years of incarceration and under the law, as it prevailed at the time of the commission of offence, he cannot be subjected to capital punishment.

Senior Advocate R. Basant and Advocate Vishnu P. appeared on behalf of the applicants while Advocates Sachin Patil and Siddharth Dharmadhikari appeared on behalf of the respondents.

Brief Facts -

An application under Section 9(2) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 requesting the Court to hold that the applicant, who was a convict for committing offences under Sections 302, 342, 397, 449 read with 120B and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was a juvenile on the date of commission of the offence. The applicant was sentenced to death by the Additional Sessions Judge, Pune

The applicant, along with two other offenders was tried for the commission of offences under the aforesaid provisions of the IPC. The appeal against the judgment of conviction and order of death sentence made by the applicant was dismissed by the Apex Court in the year 2000 and he was detained for more than 28 years.

The Supreme Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case noted, “We have called for the source of the date of birth certificate, which recorded the applicant’s birth date at the time of his entry into the school which was in the year 1986. So far as the inconsistent dates of birth mentioned in the other documents, none of them is specified to be taken into consideration for undertaking the process of age determination as laid down in Section 94 (2) of the said statute. Once the applicant has discharged his onus, in support of his claim of juvenility by producing the date of birth certificate from the school, the State had to come up with any compelling contradictory evidence to show that the recordal of his date of birth in the admission register was false. The State, in this case, has not come up with any such compelling evidence which would render such certificate to be unreliable or false.”

The Court further noted that it cannot indulge in any guesswork to doubt the entry in the school register and no evidence 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. 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. We possess no knowledge of child psychology or criminology to take into account this factor while examining the report of the Inquiring Judge”, asserted the Court.

The Court also asserted that the age of the applicant revealed in the ossification test keeps the age of the applicant as claimed by him, within the range specified in the report.

“The said test was conducted in the year 2005, and his age was determined in the range of 22 to 40 years. If we take 22 years as his age in 2005, then his year of birth would haven been 1983. That would broadly correspond to the date of birth contained in the admission register. … The degree or dimension of the offence ought not to direct approach of the Court in its inquiry into juvenility of an accused (in this case a convict). The exception where a different view can be taken has been provided by the legislature itself in Section 15 of the 2015 Act and if on the basis of commission of heinous crime, a juvenile is required to be denied the benefit of the 2015 Act, the course specified therein would be required to followed”, said the Court.

The Court, therefore, relied upon the age reflected in the certificate issued by the school and came to the conclusion that he was a juvenile on the date of commission of the offence.

“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 2015 Act. Section 21 of the 1986 Act also carried substantially the same provision on the question of maximum punishment that can be awarded to a delinquent juvenile by the Juvenile Court”, the Court directed.

The Court held that the restriction on the term of detention that can be awarded by the Board under the 2015 Act to a child below 16 years would also apply to the Court before which the juvenility question is being determined.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the plea and invalidated the death penalty order.

Cause Title- Narayan Chetanram Chaudhary v. The State of Maharashtra

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