The Supreme Court stated that the rape victim's young age is not the single or sufficient criterion in inflicting a death penalty.
The bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Sanjiv Khanna, and BR Gavai made this observation while commuting the death sentence of Irappa Siddappa Murgannavar, who was found guilty of raping a five-year-old girl (R), strangling her, and then throwing her body, tied in a gunny bag, into the Bennihalla stream.
In this case, the court addressed the prosecution's argument that the case fits under the category of "rarest of the rare" situations since the accused committed rape and murder under the guise of providing cookies. The court cited a recent decision in Shatrughna Baban Meshram v. State of Maharashtra (2021) 1 SCC 596 in this regard.
In the aforementioned ruling, the Supreme Court examined 67 Supreme Court decisions over the previous 40 years in which the trial court or the High Court had issued a death sentence for suspected crimes under Sections 376 and 302 of the Code, and the victims were under the age of 16.
The court stated that the High Court's conclusion that there are no mitigating circumstances is erroneous in this case. The court recognised the following circumstances when deciding whether or not to commute the death sentence.
There was no evidence offered to show that the appellant had any criminal history There was also no evidence offered to show that the crime was premeditated ahead of time.
The State has shown no evidence that the appellant cannot be changed and is a continuing threat to society. On the contrary, the Chief Superintendent, Central Prison, Belgaum's Death Sentence Prisoner Nominal Roll dated 17th July 2017 shows that the appellant's behaviour in jail has been satisfactory.'
We would view the appellant's behaviour in jail as atonement for his previous actions, as well as a reflection of his desire to improve and live a more compassionate life. Furthermore, the appellant's young age at the time of the offence (23 / 25 years) is a factor.
His poor socioeconomic background, lack of criminal antecedents, the non-premeditated character of the crime, and the fact that he has spent nearly ten years and ten months in jail have all counted against the application of the death sentence, which is to be inflicted only in the rarest of situations.
The State has shown no evidence that the appellant would commit acts of violence that would pose a continued threat to society; on the contrary, his behaviour in jail has been rated as good.
As a result, the court partially granted the appeal by lowering the death sentence to life in prison, The accused will not be eligible for early release/remission until he or she has served a total of 30 years in jail.