A three-judge Bench of Justice L Nageswara Rao, Justice BR Gavai and Justice BV Nagarathna has in a murder case converted the sentence of the death penalty imposed on the convict by the High Court to life imprisonment of 30 years, citing probability of the convict being reformed.

The Supreme Court in this context, observed –

"The appellant comes from a rural and economically poor background. There are no criminal antecedents. The appellant cannot be said to be a hardened criminal. This is the first offence committed by the appellant, no doubt, a heinous one. The certificate issued by the Jail Superintendent shows that the conduct of the appellant during incarceration has been satisfactory. It cannot therefore be said that there is no possibility of the appellant being reformed and rehabilitated foreclosing the alternative option of a lesser sentence and making imposition of death sentence imperative."

Senior Counsel Mr. N. Hariharan appeared for the Appellant-Accused while, Assistant Advocate General Ms. Swarupama Chaturvedi appeared on behalf of the Respondent-State before the Court.

The Apex Court was hearing an appeal against the impugned judgment of the Division Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which had confirmed the judgment of the Trial Court of imposing the sentence of the death penalty on the Appellant-Accused for the offences under Sections 302 read with 201 and 506-B IPC.

In this case, it was alleged by the Prosecution that the Appellant-Accused has caused the murder of three of his family members owing to a land dispute.

The Appellant contended before the Supreme Court that the entire case against him was a fabricated one and had been framed at the instance of PW1- Wife of the deceased. It was further argued that were several inconsistencies in the testimonies of all the Prosecution Witnesses.

Also, it was argued that the so-called recovery of axe on the memorandum of the Appellant under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act was of no relevance as the Serology Report did not support the prosecution case.

Mr. Hariharan also contended that in no circumstances, the death penalty was warranted in the case due to the fact that the Trial Court imposed the death penalty on the same day on which the conviction was recorded. A sufficient period of time between the order of conviction and the sentence ought to have been given to the Appellant so that the Appellant would have availed of his right to point out the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
The Appellant argued that he did not have criminal antecedents and it was his first crime. Also, the possibility of Appellant being reformed and rehabilitated was not taken into consideration by the Courts below.

While, the Respondent-State argued that minor inconsistencies in the evidence of the witnesses should not be given much importance when the other ocular evidence was found by the Court to be cogent, trustworthy, and reliable while placing reliance on Krishnan and Another v. State represented by Inspector of Police.

Further, Ms. Chaturvedi pleaded that merely because the serology report was not conclusive it could not be a ground to disbelieve the Prosecution case [R. Shaji v. State of Kerala].

i) Inconsistences in the testimonies of PWs

The Apex Court noted that there were minor discrepancies in the evidence of all PWs, in this context, the Court observed –

"It could thus be seen that what is required to be considered is whether the evidence of the witness read as a whole appears to have a ring of truth. It has been held that minor discrepancies on trivial matters not touching the core of the case, hypertechnical approach by taking sentences torn out of context here or there from the evidence, would not ordinarily permit rejection of the evidence as a whole."

"It has been held that the prosecution evidence may suffer from inconsistencies here and discrepancies there, but that is a shortcoming from which no criminal case is free. What is important is to see as to whether those inconsistencies go to the root of the matter or pertain to insignificant aspects thereof," the Court held.

Further, the Bench opined, "It has been held that there are always normal discrepancies due to normal errors of observation, normal errors of memory due to lapse of time, due to mental disposition, shock and horror at the time of occurrence. It is the duty of the court to separate falsehood from the truth in every case"

The Court by applying the aforementioned principles held that the minor discrepancies in the evidence of prosecution witnesses are not of such a nature which would persuade this Court to disbelieve their testimonies. Further, the Court noted that the witnesses are rustic villagers and some inconsistencies in their depositions are bound to be there.

In this context, the Court further opined –

"It can thus be seen that this Court has held that in case of rustic witnesses, some inconsistencies and discrepancies are bound to be found. It has been held that the inconsistencies in the evidence of the witnesses should not be blown out of proportion. To do so is to ignore hard realities of village life and give undeserved benefit to the accused."

"It has been held that the evidence of such witnesses has to be appreciated as a whole. A rustic witness is not expected to remember every small detail of the incident and the manner in which the incident had happened. Further, a witness is bound to face shock of the untimely death of his near relatives. Upon perusal of the evidence of the witnesses as a whole, we are of the considered view that their evidence is cogent, reliable and trustworthy, the Court held.

ii) Capital Punishment is warranted or not

In this context, the Court observed –

In the present case, it is to be noted that the trial court had convicted the appellant and imposed the death penalty on the very same day. From the judgment of the trial court, it does not appear that the appellant was given a meaningful time and a real opportunity of hearing on the question of sentence.

The Court also held that from the judgment of Trial Court and High Court it did not appear that the Courts below had drawn a balance sheet of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

"The trial court as well as the High Court has only taken into consideration the crime but have not taken into consideration the criminal, his state of mind, his socioeconomic background etc.," the Court held.

The Court held that it is a bounden duty to take into consideration the probability of the accused being reformed and rehabilitated

Accordingly, the Court converted the sentence imposed on the Appellant from death to life. The Court further held that the Appellant be sentenced to Rigorous Imprisonment of 30 years.

In the light of these observations, the Court partly allowed the appeal while affirming the conviction of the Appellant for the offences punishable under Sections 302, 201, and 506­B of IPC.

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