Supreme Court bench upheld the conviction of Sundarrajan but commuted the death sentence to imprisonment of 20 years

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Today, the Supreme Court bench upheld the conviction but set aside the death penalty awarded to Sundarrajan and commuted it to 20 years imprisonment. The bench hearing the case consists of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Hima Kohli, and Justice PS Narasimha. The Supreme court stated that “Applicant is a convict on death row. Petition to have a re-look at his conviction on the basis of Mohd Arif Judgment where it was held review must be held in open court. We see no reason in doubting the guilt of the petitioner. Exercising powers under review to interfere with conviction is not warranted. We commute the death sentence to imprisonment of 20 years.” In addition to this, the bench directed “Notice to the Police officer Cuddalore as to why action should not be taken in pursuance to the affidavit filed in the court. Registry directed to initiate a suo motu contempt case against the officer.”  

In the Sundar @ Sundarrajan vs State by inspector of Police case, the petitioner (Sundarrajan) was accused of kidnapping and murdering a 7-year-old child. After kidnapping the child, the petitioner demanded a ransom of Rs. 5 lakhs for the release of the victim. The petitioner confessed to strangling the deceased, putting his dead body in a gunny bag, and throwing it in the tank. The body of the deceased was recovered from the tank on the basis of the confessional statement. The Sessions Judge convicted the petitioner for the offences with which he was charged and sentenced him to death with a fine of Rs.1000. The petitioner’s appeal was dismissed by the High Court and both the conviction and the award of the death sentence were confirmed.

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The petitioner moved to the Supreme Court for a fresh look at his petition seeking a review of his conviction for the offence of murder and the award of the sentence of death. He does so on the basis of the decision of the Constitution Bench in Mohd. Arif alias Ashfaq v Registrar, Supreme Court of India where SC held that review petitions arising from conviction and the imposition of the sentence of death must be heard in open court and cannot be disposed of by circulation. The Constitution Bench allowed a period of a month from the date of judgment to petitioners whose applications seeking review of the judgment of this Court confirming the award of the sentence of death were rejected by circulation, where the sentence was yet to be executed. In view of the judgment in Mohd. Arif, the order in the present case dismissing the review petition through circulation was recalled and this review petition was heard in open Court.

In addition, the Supreme Court stated that “ The grounds which have been raised by the petitioner have already been dealt with by the courts which have arrived at concurrent findings recording the guilt of the petitioner. During the hearing, the petitioner alleged that the number through which the call has been made for ransom does not belong to him. He further contended that the difference in the IMEI number as well as the call detail records does not affect the prosection’s case. It was also determined that the CDRs are inadmissible in the absence of a Section 65B certificate. The top Court disposed of the review petitions and commuted the death sentence of Sundarrajan (petitioner).

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