In the case of M.F. vs State of Madhya Pradesh, the Apex Court of India on 19th April 2022 mitigated the death sentence to life imprisonment imposed on a man for killing a 4-year-old girl after raping her.
Facts leading to the case:
The prosecution case unfolds before the trial court, that in April 2013, accused no. 2 along with the accused no. 1 came to the house of the complainant (mother of the four-year-old victim girl),. When the complainant’s mother refused to provide accommodation to accused no. 1, the accused no. 2 left the house but the accused no. 1 remained in the courtyard of the complainant’s house where the victim was playing. When the complainant couldn’t find her daughter after a while, she filed a missing report with the police station.
Next day, some villagers found one girl child lying unconscious in the field and blood was oozing from her mouth and nostrils who was later identified as the complainant’s daughter. She was taken to the Police Station and then to the hospital where the doctors she was examined and confirmed that a rape was committed against her. Her conditions deteriorated and she expired.
Postmortem was done and the final cause for the death was stated to be ‘bronchopneumonia and cerebral hypoxia’ which was caused by smothering the nose and mouth.
An investigation was done and both the accused were arrested. Accused no. 1 was charged for the offences under sections 363 (Punishment for kidnapping), 366 (Kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her marriage, etc), 376(2)(m) (whoever while committing rape causes grievous bodily harm or maims or disfigures or endangers the life of a woman), and 302 (Punishment for rape) of IPC and under sections 5(i) (whoever commits penetrative sexual assault causing grievous hurt or causing bodily harm and injury or injury to the sexual organs of the child), 5(m) (whoever commits penetrative sexual assault on a child below twelve years), and 6 (Punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault) of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act [POCSO], 2012 and the accused no. 2 was charged for the offences under sections 363 (Punishment for kidnapping) and 366 (Kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her marriage, etc) read with section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) and under section 109 (Punishment of a abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequence and when no express provision is made for its punishment) of IPC and under section 16 (Abetment of an offence) and 17 (Punishment for abetment) of the POCSO Act.
The Session Court to the High Court of Madhya Pradesh confirmed the death sentence for the accused no.1 and acquitted the accused no. 2 of the charges levelled against him.
Being aggrieved by the judgment of the High Court, the accused no.1 filed an appeal in the Apex Court.
The Counsel for the appellant-accused argued, citing several Supreme Court decisions, that the prosecution’s case is based on circumstantial evidence that should have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt by leading cogent evidence, which the prosecution failed to achieve. Furthermore, the prosecution’s last seen argument does not establish a link between the defendant and the alleged offence. The mere fact that the accused had admitted that he had paid a visit to the victim’s home could not be used to infer that he had perpetrated the alleged rape and murder crimes. In addition, a fair trial was neither conducted by trial court nor High Court.
The Counsel for the respondent (State) claimed that the time difference between the victim’s last sighting with the accused and her discovery unconscious in the field was so close that it was inferred that the alleged crime was perpetrated solely by the accused, proving the last seen theory. Furthermore, it was argued that the grievance of the trial not being conducted fairly by the trial and High Court should not be heard because the appellant-accused did not object to the same during the trial before the trial Court or even before the High Court, and it was only raised before this Court for the first time.
Observations of the Court:
- The Court noted that during the cross-examination the accused admitted the date and time of his visit to the victim’s home, along with the accused no. 2. By his admission, his identity has been proved.
- With regard to the last seen theory, the Court concluded after reviewing the witness statements that the appellant-accused had taken the victim with him from the fruit vendor’s shop in the evening hours of the alleged incident because neither explanation was offered nor any concrete defence was taken during the course of the cross-examination of the witnesses. Most crucially, following the alleged encounter, the accused fled to his native land.
- The Court noted that due procedure was followed by providing legal assistance to the accused by appointing a lawyer at the expense of the State, who had thoroughly cross-examined all the witnesses. It was observed that while conducting the trial/appeal the Court is obliged to protect the rights of the accused and the victim’s rights and the interests of the society at large.
- Further, the Court observed that all the Constitutional guarantees have failed to protect the victim from the clutches of the demonizing acts of the appellant and if any sympathy shown to the accused would lead to miscarriage of justice.
- The Court stated that “One of the basic principles of restorative justice as developed by this Court over the years, also is to give an opportunity to the offender to repair the damage caused, and to become a socially useful individual, when he is released from the jail”.
Hence, the Court commuted the death sentence to imprisonment for a period of twenty years. The conviction and sentence imposed by the courts for the other offences under IPC and POCSO are upheld.
Written by Vaishali Jain & Surbhi Jain