#Nirbhaya: Supreme Court seeks mitigating circumstances from the accused

In a significant development in the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, the Supreme Court of India has asked the four convicts to file affidavits on the aggravating and mitigating factors to be considered for sentencing.

The Bench orally directed the counsel for the accused, advocates AP Singh and ML Sharma to be ready with the affidavits.

This direction by the Bench comes in the wake of submissions made by Amicus Curiae Raju Ramachandran that the trial court had not followed proper procedure for sentencing the accused.

One of Ramachandran’s main arguments was that the trial court failed to individualize the hearing on the sentencing aspect and did not consider mitigating circumstances of each of the four accused.

“The accused and their counsel were not asked questions about their individual backgrounds and their mitigating factors, there was no application of mind to the case of each accused and therefore, no separate reasons were given for the imposition of death penalty on each of the accused.”

This denial of an individualized sentencing process, he had contended, had resulted in the denial of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

“The Trial Court and the High Court was so overwhelmed by the nature of the crime and conviction, that it completely ignored the fact that mitigating factors in the case of each accused could be different. This disregard of the individuality of the accused overlooks the very dignity and worth of a person, irrespective of the fact that he is a condemned offender, thus offending Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” 

Ramachandran had also submitted certain interesting figures pertaining to rape and murder cases in which the Supreme Court had discussed death penalty as an option.

There were 49 such cases since 1991. The court awarded death penalty in 16 cases. In the remaining 33 cases, it awarded imprisonment of various terms, ranging from 18 years to life. Out of the 33 cases of imprisonment 28 cases were of life imprisonment.

The decision of the Court to seek aggravating and mitigating circumstances from the accused comes at a time when there is huge public pressure on the Court to confirm the death penalty. On the other hand, legal experts have, many a time, panned the court for not applying its own standards laid down in the case of Bachan Singh.

With the court now seeking details from the accused, the case is indeed poised at an interesting juncture.