Supreme Court’s Guidelines On Obtaining Information In Death Penalty Cases

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The Supreme Court has recommended the prosecuting agency to present material which is preferably collected beforehand before the sessions court disclosing psychiatric and psychological evaluation of the accused in offence carrying capital punishment at the appropriate stage.

The court said that conducting this form of psychiatric and psychological evaluation close on the heels of the commission of the offence, will provide a baseline for the appellate courts to use for comparison, to evaluate the progress of the accused towards reformation, achieved during the incarceration period.

A bench of Justices UU Lalit, Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi issued various guidelines to decide on imposing capital punishment upon the accused.

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There is an urgent need to ensure that mitigating circumstances are considered at the trial stage, to avoid slipping into a retributive response to the brutality of the crime, as is noticeably the situation in a majority of cases reaching the appellate stage, the court remarked.

The court held that the trial court must elicit information from the accused and the state.

“The state, must – for an offence carrying capital punishment – at the appropriate stage, produce material which is preferably collected beforehand before the Sessions Court disclosing psychiatric and psychological evaluation of the accused,” the top court said.

It is also said that this will help establish proximity (in terms of timeline), to the accused person’s frame of mind (or mental illness, if any) at the time of committing the crime and offer guidance on mitigating factors.

Besides this, the top court also recommended state, in a time-bound manner, collect additional information pertaining to the accused, which includes age, early and present family background, type and level of education, socioeconomic background, Criminal antecedents, Income and the kind of employment and Other factors such as the history of unstable social behaviour, or mental or psychological ailments.

This information should mandatorily be available to the trial court, at the sentencing stage and the accused too should be given the same opportunity to produce evidence in rebuttal, towards establishing all mitigating circumstances, the court said.

Lastly, information regarding the accused’s jail conduct and behaviour, work done (if any), activities the accused has involved themselves in, and other related details should be called for in the form of a report from the relevant jail authorities (that is, probation and welfare officer, superintendent of jail, etc.), the court said.

“If the appeal is heard after a long hiatus from the trial court’s conviction, or High Court’s confirmation, as the case may be – a fresh report (rather than the one used by the previous court) from the jail authorities is recommended, for a more exact and complete understanding of the contemporaneous progress made by the accused, in the time elapsed. The jail authorities must also include a fresh psychiatric and psychological report which will further evidence the reformative progress, and reveal post-conviction mental illness if any,” the top court said.

“The goal of reformative punishment requires systems that actively enable reformation and rehabilitation, as a result of nuanced policymaking. As a small step to correct these skewed results and facilitate a better evaluation of whether there is a possibility for the accused to be reformed (beyond vague references to conduct, family background, etc.), this court deems it necessary to frame practical guidelines for the courts to adopt and implement, till the legislature and executive, formulate a coherent framework through legislation,” the top court said.

It also said that these guidelines may also offer guidance or ideas, that such a legislative framework could benefit from, systematically collect and evaluate information on mitigating circumstances.

The top court guidelines came while commuting the death sentence of three accused, to life imprisonment for a minimum term of 25 years.

It commuted the sentence taking note of the young age of the accused at the time of the incident, lack of criminal antecedents, and reports received from the Superintendent of Jail which reflect that each of the three accused, has a record of overall good conduct in prison and display inclination to reform.

The court was hearing three appeals preferred by three accused persons, who were convicted under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) imposed with the death penalty by the judgment and orders of the First Additional Sessions Judge, Indore. This was confirmed by a Division Bench of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh at Indore.

The appellants Manoj, Rahul alias Govind and Neha Verma, were convicted of offences punishable under Section 302 IPC (three counts) for committing the murder, during the course of the robbery, of three persons on June 19 2011. All three appellants were sentenced to capital punishment with a fine of ₹ 1000 on each count.

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