After ruling that the 20-year-old man was a juvenile when the crime was done, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered his release. He had been given the death punishment for the 2017 rape and murder of a four-year-old child in the Madhya Pradesh district of Dhar.
A bench of Justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol said, “The conviction of the appellant (youth) is upheld; however, the sentence is set aside”.
It said since the appellant at present would be more than 20 years old, there was no requirement of sending him to the Juvenile Justice Board or any other childcare facility or institution.
“Appellant is in judicial custody. He shall be released forthwith,” the bench said and modified the November 15, 2018 order of the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court by which it had confirmed his conviction and death sentence in the case.
Supreme court has ordered the trial court to verify the juvenile claim of the accused.
“We have perused the report and also the material evidence led before the Trial Court on the basis of which the conclusion has been drawn by the Trial Court. The report is based upon documentary evidence as also oral evidence of the present headmistress, the retired headmaster, five teachers of the primary institution and also the guardian of the appellant,” the bench said.
The court does not find any reason to mistrust or even question the testimony of government employees, both active and retired, it stated. It would also be important to emphasise that the institution is a government primary school rather than a private institution. Documents such as mark sheets, birth certificates and school register will also be thoroughly examined.
“This Court, therefore, has no reason to doubt the correctness of the conclusion arrived at by the Trial Court regarding the date of birth of the appellant. We, therefore, accept the report of the Trial Court and hold that the appellant was aged 15 years, 4 months and 20 days on the date of the incident,” the bench held.
Supreme Court denied the state’s request that the accused be sent for an ossification test to verify his claim of juvenility on the grounds that the state had not objected to the trial court’s investigation.
“Secondly, ossification test will only give a broad assessment of the age. It cannot give an exact age. There is also an element of margin of plus or minus 1 to 2 years. Even if we permit the said test, it does not lead us anywhere. It will have no bearing on the assessment made by the Trial Court after the inquiry,” it said.
About the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015, the bench stated that the law offers full coverage to a person who is established to be a child on the date of the offence to avail of the benefits admissible to a child under the law, even if the case has been finally decided and such person has attained adulthood.
Under the Juvenile Justice Act, if a child above 16 but below 18 years of age has committed a heinous offence, he or she will be tried as an adult. The children’s court (section 18 of the JJ Act) can pass a sentence of more than 3 years imprisonment but not the death penalty or life imprisonment to juveniles in conflict with the law.
On December 15, 2017, the four-year-old went missing while playing with her friends outside her house in the Dhar district. Her parents filed a missing person’s complaint but the child’s mutilated and nude body was found the next morning a few metres away from her house. Police said she was bludgeoned to death with a stone.