The case below from Rajasthan raises serious concerns over our investigation process, when it comes to rape cases.
The Rajasthan High Court in its order dated May 11, 2022 commuted the death penalty of a rape convict to life sentence. The matter before High Court only pertained to the aspect of sentence, as the Supreme Court had already confirmed the conviction of the accused.
However, after the conviction, the Bench of Justices Pankaj Bhandari and Anoop Kumar Dhand directed probe into two other persons whose DNA was obtained from the clothes of deceased child.
The accused man has old parents, a wife and a five year old son. His wife is working as a labourer to make both ends meet.
The accused man was convicted for raping and murdering a 7-year-old girl child and subsequently, sentenced to death by trial court. The Rajasthan High Court and Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
However, the matter was sent back to the High Court to reconsider the quantum of sentence. This time, the High Court commuted the death sentence of the convict to life imprisonment.
Reason For Change In Sentence
According to the Rajasthan High Court, the entire case was presented based on circumstantial evidence.
Shockingly, DNA samples collected from the accused, led to suspicion of a false rape case against him. On the other hand, there were two other criminals who seemed to have actually committed the crime, however, they were not even booked.
It was thus that the High Court directed the case to be re-opened, and the DLSA was asked to appeal against the conviction. In the interim, the Rajasthan High Court commuted the death penalty of the convict to life imprisonment.
WATCH: DGP Rajasthan On False Rape Cases (OCTOBER 2020)
Rajasthan High Court
It was only when the matter was re-directed to the High Court to ascertain the quantum of conviction, the Court said,
We with heavy heart and with hope that justice would be done to the accused, who has been sentenced to imprisonment till death for crime committed by two other persons, commute sentence from death penalty to life imprisonment.
All Arguments Based On Circumstantial Evidence, DNA Sample Overlooked
The bench noted that the entire case was based on circumstantial evidence. It also took into account that reliance had been placed by the court on the DNA report as per which, the DNA profiles of two males was obtained from the leggings of the victim.
The same profiles were also obtained from the underwear of the accused. However, it did not match that of the accused’s blood sample. The bench observed,
The two male DNA profile obtained from the leggings of the deceased did not match with the DNA profile of the blood sample taken from the accused, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the above is that the two criminals who actually committed the crime were not booked by the police.
The High Court also took into account that the accused was not even given an opportunity to explain his DNA report.
Additionally, it was considered that as per the school record of the accused he was a minor at the time of the offence, he did not have any criminal background and had shown good conduct in jail.
Benefit of Doubt
Since Indian judicial system operates on how ‘no innocent should be held guilty’, the High Court remarked,
In the light of the above, even though a seven year old girl was raped, sodomized and murdered, this aggravating circumstance in view of the discussions made herein above cannot be considered to be an aggravating circumstance against the present accused.
We are alive of the fact that the conviction of the accused has been upheld by the Apex Court, but it is a cardinal principle of criminal law that let hundred guilty be acquitted but one innocent should not be held guilty.
Adding further, the Court said,
The maxim ‘let hundred guilty be acquitted but, one innocent should not be convicted’, is based on Blackstone’s formulation that it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffers.
This statement is the guiding principle behind rules of procedure and evidence guiding our Courts, when any law relating to procedure and evidence requires interpretation, the interpretation given to such provision is usually in favour of the accused upholding the presumption of innocence.
The reason for this is to ensure that the police and prosecution do their job right, and to ensure that an overzealous prosecution does not result in an innocent man being convicted of a crime, he did not commit, otherwise people would not have faith and respect for the justice delivery system.
Police Allegedly Shifted Blame On Wrong Person
According to the High Court, the two criminals, who were the actual suspects in the case, had shifted the entire blame on the accused – with the help of the police.
In fact, it was underscored that material facts regarding the age of the accused and the DNA evidence were not brought to the apex court’s attention, and no assistance was provided to the appellant before the top court.
Therefore, the Secretary of the Rajasthan State Legal Services Authority was directed to appeal against the previous judgment of the High Court converting the accused’s death sentence to life imprisonment.
Matter Re-Directed For Fresh Investigation
The High Court pointed out the dubious role of the investigating officer and remarked,
The role of the police and the investigating officer is also dubious for the very reason that the underwear which was got recovered from the present accused was having DNA of some other male and that DNA matched with the DNA of the deceased, which goes to show that to save a culprit, somebody else’s underwear was got recovered from the present accused.
The Jhalawar Superintendent of Police has now been directed to reopen the matter and investigate the two accused whose DNA samples were obtained from the leggings of the victim.
The High Court has also ordered strict action against those police officers (within two months) who investigated this case, by wrongly booking the accused belonging to a backward class, who had no means to defend his case.
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READ ORDER | Role Of Investigating Officer Dubious; Rajasthan High Court Commutes Death Penalty Of Man Falsely Accused Of Raping Minor— Men’s Day Out (@MensDayOutIndia) May 19, 2022
HC: "We with heavy heart & hope that justice would be done, commute sentence from death penalty to life imprisonment"https://t.co/n5aeSJXMm5
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