New Delhi: Life imprisonment is the rule and death penalty an exception and courts should also consider socio-economic compulsions such as poverty while awarding the extreme sentence to a convict, the Supreme Court on Tuesday held.
"Poverty, socio-economic, psychic compulsions, undeserved adversities in life are some of the mitigating factors which are also required to be considered, in addition to criteria laid down in its two landmark verdicts on death penalty," the court said.
"We may note that the rule is life imprisonment for murder, and death is the exception for which special reasons are to be stated," a bench of justices SJ Mukhopadhaya and Kurian Joseph said.
The court, in its judgement, commuted the death sentence into life imprisonment of a man who was convicted for killing his wife and two sons.
It said that the condemned convict had intended to wipe out the whole family including himself on account of abject poverty and these aspects were not considered by the courts below while awarding him death sentence.
"It has come in evidence that the appellant suffered from economic and psychic compulsions. The possibility of reforming and rehabilitating the accused cannot be ruled out. The accused had no prior criminal record. On the facts available to the court, it can be safely said that the accused is not likely to be menace or threat or danger to society.
"There is nothing to show that he had any previous criminal background. The appellant had in fact intended to wipe out the whole family including himself on account of abject poverty," the bench said.
The apex court in its judgement mentioned the circumstances under which the convict had killed his wife and two sons and also tried to murder his daughter.
Giving the sequence of incidents, the bench mentioned that he stopped short of killing his daughter when she questioned why he was doing so after which he gave water to the injured daughter.
"It so happened by chance that despite the stab injuries inflicted on the daughter, she managed to weepingly question her father why he was acting in such a manner. The change of heart is also discernible from the fact that he had given water to the injured daughter.
"After this, he no longer used the weapon for finishing her. He tried once again by taking her to his lap and stifling her with the aid of a pillow. However, as can be seen from his own statement, he could not finish killing her. Thereafter, he went straight to the police station and gave a statement of what he had done," the judgement said.
"If we analyse the facts of the case in the backdrop of the circumstances of the appellant at the time of commission of the offence and on applying the crime test and the criminal test, it is fairly clear that the case does not fall under the rarest of rare category of cases so as to warrant a punishment of death," the bench said.
"When there are binding decisions, judicial comity expects and requires the same to be followed. Judicial comity is an integral part of judicial discipline and judicial discipline the cornerstone of judicial integrity. No doubt, in case there are newer dimensions not in conflict with the ratio of larger bench decisions or where there is anything to be added to and explained, it is always permissible to introduce the same," it said.