SC bench overrules death sentence and sustains conviction of juvenile convict for rape and murder

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While hearing the Karan @ Faitya vs the State of Madhya Pradesh case on March 3, 2023, the Supreme Court of India overruled the death sentence imposed on the rape and murder convict of a minor girl by the division bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court (HC). Also, the bench hearing the case comprising Justices B.R. Gavai, Sanjay Karol, and Vikram Nath sustained the conviction of the accused. This decision was made because during the investigation it was found that the convict was a juvenile at the time of offence. The SC further said that “The conviction recorded by any Court with respect to a person who has subsequently after the disposal of the case found to be juvenile or a child, would not lose its effect rather it is only the sentence if any passed by the Court would be deemed to have no effect. Merits of the conviction could be tested and the conviction which was recorded cannot be held to be vitiated in law merely because the inquiry was not conducted by JJB.”

In this case, the Trial Court convicted the appellant for all the offences and awarded the death sentence. The appeal preferred by the appellant was dismissed by the HC and the death reference forwarded by the Trial Court was affirmed. The appellant moved an application t the Supreme Court claiming juvenility. The SC ordered the Trial Court to submit its report after due inquiry as to whether the appellant was a juvenile on the date when the offence in question was committed. A report was received from the Court of First Additional Sessions Judge stating “It is found conclusively proved that the date of birth of the applicant/accused Karan is 25.07.2002. It is also proved taking into account 25.07.2002 as his date of birth, the applicant was 15 years 04 months 20 days of age as on 15.12.2017, and being below 16 years of age, he was child as per section 2(12) of J.J. Act, 2015. Accordingly, the inquiry proceedings are concluded.”

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The Apex Court while giving the judgment stated that there is no reason to doubt the correctness of the conclusion arrived at by the Trial Court regarding the date of birth of the appellant. The bench observed that during the inquiry before the Trial Court, the State did not take any objection whatsoever with regard to the documents filed and evidence led on behalf of the appellant so much. Therefore, the State did not even cross-examine the witnesses who were examined in the inquiry. The SC also stated that the ossification test will only give a broad assessment of the age and cannot give an exact age. “The first preference for determination of age is the birth certificate issued by the school or a matriculation certificate. There being birth certificate from the school available and that too a government primary school, no reason to doubt its correctness and all the more when it has been duly proved in the inquiry before the Trial Court,” mentioned by the SC.

During the hearing of this case, the Supreme Court highlighted that “the relief to be extended to the appellant may be examined through a different perspective also, that is, whether he has already undergone maximum sentence which can be awarded against a child in conflict with law for committing a heinous offence and who is below age of 16 years…The appellant has already undergone more than 5 years… His incarceration beyond 3 years would be illegal, and therefore, he would be liable to be released forthwith on this count also.” Lastly, the bench said that the appeals stand partly allowed. 

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