The Karnataka High Court recently reiterated that trial courts cannot impose a “special category sentence” or imprisonment for life without the possibility of remission or, in other words, imprisonment “till the last breath” of the convict. [Harish v. State of Karnataka]
A Bench of Justices K Somashekar and Rajesh Rai K clarified that it is only the Supreme Court and the High Courts that can impose such punishments.
This is in view of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Union of India v. V Sriharan Alias Murugan, which concerned the remission of the persons convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
In that case, the Supreme Court had opined that special category sentences are sometimes necessary, in view of the rise in heinous crimes, the delays in disposal of cases and the interest of victims.
However, the High Court pointed out that the top court had added that “such special category sentence can only be imposed by High Court or Supreme Court and not by trial court.”
The High Court made the observation while dealing with an appeal challenging a trial court’s conviction and sentence of a man charged with murdering his paramour’s husband. Upon convicting the accused man, the sessions court had sentenced him imprisonment for life, till his last breath.
On appeal, the High Court upheld the man’s conviction, but set aside the sessions court’s decision to punish the convict with imprisonment till his last breath, on finding that trial courts cannot impose such a special category sentence.
“In such circumstances, the Sessions Court cannot exercise such power to impose imprisonment to accused No.1 till his last breath. Hence, learned Sessions Judge erred on that count,” the High Court held.
The Court further found that the present case was not a “rarest of the rare case” to warrant the imposition of a special category sentence.
The High Court proceeded to modify the trial court’s order on punishment. The convict’s punishment was reduced from imprisonment till the last breath of his life to life imprisonment (which would include a possibility of remission after 14 years).
In the same judgment, the Court also acquitted a co-accused, who was earlier accused of helping to shift the dead body of the murder victim.
The main accused was represented by Advocate Veeranna G Tigadi, whereas the co-accused was represented by Advocate Budurunnisa. The State was represented by Additional Special Public Prosecutor Vijayakumar Majage.