Written by: Shruti Srivastava (Intern)
Edited by: Anubhav Yadav (Content Head & Developer)
A sessions court in Kerala awarded double life term in prison to an accused found guilty of murdering his wife. In what was recognized to be a heinous and diabolical crime, the convict attempted to murder his disabled wife twice, succeeding the second time. The crime and its modus operandi, where the convict used a ravenous snake to kill his wife, invoked rage and hatred against him, and the public expected the judiciary to award him death sentence. However, the trial court’s decision to sentence him to life imprisonment highlights its ability to look beyond the pressure exerted by civil society and exercise its discretion judiciously.
Facts of the Case:
In a rather gruesome incident, Suraj Kumar, the convict, purchased two snakes, namely, the viper and the cobra for the envenomation of his wife. After the first attempt going in vain, he threw the snake on his wife when she was bedridden and was recuperating from the first attack. The victim was throughout under the impression that she was being loved by her husband and was completely unsuspicious of his intentions, to an extent that she was given drugs by him before both the snake attacks, which she consumed without any wariness. It was the innocence of the victim and the treachery of the convict that aroused a feeling of disgust towards the latter and the public created a narrative that the accused should be hanged till death.
The court, relying on the rarest of the rare doctrine, sentenced the accused to life imprisonment, thus not surrendering to public opinion. The rarest of the rare doctrine was propounded by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab. The trial court judge remarked that in order to award death penalty, it is imperative to check that the following two conditions are fulfilled:
- The offence should fall within the purview of ‘the rarest of rare’,
- The option of life imprisonment should be foreclosed.
To examine the fulfilment of the first condition, the court relied on the Supreme Court decision in the case of Md Mannan @ Abdul Mannan vs State of Bihar, where it was held that it is not only the crime, but also the criminal, the state of his mind, his socio-economic background etc. that has to be taken into consideration while deciding the gravity of an offence, in order to categorize it as ‘rarest of the rare’.
Applying these conditions to the present case, the court held that the accused, Suraj was 28 years old and did not have any criminal antecedents, neither was he involved in any grave offence of moral turpitude in the past, hence, his offence did not fall in the rarest of the rare category. Without any criminal antecedents, it could not be held that the accused was a threat to the society. Along with that, the court also mentioned that as per this doctrine, life imprisonment was the rule and death penalty, the exception, which is to be awarded only in those cases where there are no chances of reformation left. As long as the sentence of life imprisonment serves the interest of justice, catering to the public opinion and awarding death sentence is not an obligation of the judiciary. This view has also been echoed by the Supreme Court in a similar case, where it held that individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution are on a higher pedestal than public opinion.