“Downright bizarre”: Supreme Court on High Court decision to award different jail terms to convicts for same offence

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The Supreme Court on Monday expressed surprise at a High Court decision to award different jail terms to various persons convicted for the same offence in a case, and having indistinguishable roles in the crime [Uggarsain v. State of Haryana and Others].

A bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Dipankar Dutta was dealing with an appeal against a Punjab and Haryana High Court decision to convict and sentence eight persons for forming an unlawful assembly and killing a person after attacking him with deadly weapons.

The Supreme Court noted that the role of each person convicted in the case was practically indistinguishable.

While so, the Court found it inexplicable that the High Court had imposed different sentences on the various accused.

While the highest penalty awarded was a 9-year jail term, some of the convicts were given relatively lenient sentences including a 3-year jail term and even an 11-month jail term.

“The sentencing in this case, to put it mildly, is inexplicable (if not downright bizarre) … No rationale appears from the reasoning of the High Court for this wide disparity. It is not as though the court took note of the role ascribed to the accused (such a course was not possible, given the nature of the evidence),” the Supreme Court observed.

The bench concluded that the High Court had erred in its approach and not considered the gravity of the crime, particularly when it chose to reduce the sentence for some of the convicts to the jail term already undergone.

“Having held all the accused criminally liable, under Section 304 Part II read with Section 149 IPC and also not having found any distinguishing feature in the form of separate roles played by each of them, the imposition of the “sentence undergone” criteria, amounted to an aberration, and the sentencing is for that reason, flawed,” the apex court observed.

It, therefore, proceeded to impose a uniform sentence of 5 years of rigorous imprisonment for all of the convicts, after considering the totality of circumstances.

Since some of the convicts had already undergone imprisonment for a greater period by virtue of the orders of the courts below, the Supreme Court clarified that “the impugned judgment, as far as they are concerned, is left undisturbed.”

Accordingly, the appeals were partly allowed.

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