SC commutes death sentence for ‘unexplained delay’ in forwarding mercy petition

Supreme Court of India
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New Delhi– The Supreme Court on Thursday commuted the death sentence of a man who murdered his wife and five children after rapping the Madhya Pradesh government for it “unexplained” delay of four years in forwarding his mercy petition to the Centre, leading to almost five years in deciding it.

Jagdish was convicted and sentenced to death by the trial court and the capital punishment was confirmed by the state High Court and upheld by the top court on September 18, 2009.

Commuting the death sentence while noting the brutal nature of the crime in which “6 innocent lives were lost”, the bench of Justice N.V.Ramana, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Indira Banerjee directed, “We direct that life imprisonment in this case shall mean the entire remaining life of the petitioner and he shall not be released till his death.”

The order came on Jagdish’s review petition challenging the President’s rejection of his mercy petition on July 16, 2014, arguing that there was a delay of almost five years in deciding it and that itself was a ground for commuting the death sentence.

He had also sought the review of the apex court’s September 18, 2009 judgment upholding his death sentence.

In its decision, the court cited the “unexplained delay of four years in forwarding the mercy petition by the state of Madhya Pradesh leading to delay of almost five years in deciding the mercy petition and the fact that the petitioner has been incarcerated for almost 14 years …”

Taking a dim view of the way the Madhya Pradesh government acted, the court said, “We are constrained to observe that not only was there a long, inordinate and unexplained delay on the part of the state of Madhya Pradesh but to make matters worse, the state of Madhya Pradesh has not even cared to file any counter-affidavit in the writ petition even though notice was issued four years back on November 18, 2014 and service was effected within a month of issuance of notice.”

Observing that the delay in forwarding the petition was “totally unexplained” and the top court “cannot countenance” it, Justice Gupta, speaking for the bench, observed, “We are dealing here with the case of a person who has been sentenced to death. The mercy petition is the last hope of a person on death row. Every dawn will give rise to a new hope that his mercy petition may be accepted. By nightfall this hope also dies.”

This court, the judgment said, has repeatedly held that in cases where death sentence has to be executed, it should be done as early as possible and if mercy petitions are not forwarded for four years and no explanation is submitted, “we cannot but hold that the delay is inordinate and unexplained.”

Observing that the death sentence is the exception and has to be pronounced in rarest of rare cases, the court said that it was of the view that “regardless of the brutal nature”, this crime was not a fit case for a death sentence. (IANS)



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