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A bench of Justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol of the Supreme Court set aside the death sentence of a rape and murder who was found to be a juvenile at the time of the crime, however, the bench upheld the conviction. The bench was hearing the death-row convict’s appeal against a November 2018 order of the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court that had upheld his sentence and conviction. The accused had moved an application claiming juvenility during the pendency of the appeal before the top court. The top court called for a report from a district judge in the State, after which it was found that the boy was 15 at the time of the crime.

The sentence was set aside based on a report Additional Sessions Judge, Manawar, District Dhar, Madhya Pradesh which categorically stated that the accused was 15 years and 4 months of age on the date of the incident, which was December 15, 2017.

The court in the instant case noted that as per the Juvenile Justice Act, a minor below the age of 16 years cannot be sentenced to more than 3 years in prison even in case of a heinous offence.

“In the present case, the appellant is held to be less than 16 years, and therefore, the maximum punishment that could be awarded is upto 3 years. The appellant has already undergone more than 5 years. His incarceration beyond 3 years would be illegal, and therefore, he would be liable to be released forthwith on this count also,” the Court said.

The Juvenile Justice Act was bought about to benefit minors only with respect to a lenient sentence so as to bring him into the mainstream of the society and not to make the conviction ineffective.

 ” … a trial conducted and conviction recorded by the Sessions Court would not be held to be vitiated in law even though subsequently the person tried has been held to be a child. The intention of the legislature was to give benefit to a person who is declared to be a child on the date of the offence only with respect to its sentence part”, the Court observed.

Hence, if the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) fails to conduct inquiry with respect to the age of the accused, the trial and conviction would not stand vitiated.

“Having considered the statutory provisions laid down in section 9 of the 2015 Act and also section 7A of the 2000 Act which is identical to section 9 of the 2015 Act, we are of the view that merits of the conviction could be tested and the conviction which was recorded cannot be held to be vitiated in law merely because the inquiry was not conducted by JJB. It is only the question of sentence for which the provisions of the 2015 Act would be attracted and any sentence in excess of what is permissible under the 2015 Act will have to be accordingly amended as per the provisions of the 2015 Act,” the Court said.

The juvenile in the instant case had already been in prison for 5 years and the and the maximum sentence that can be awarded as per Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 is 3 years stay in a special home, the Court ordered that he be released from custody.

The counsel for the appellant argued that the death penalty cannot be imposed as the effect of Section 9(2) of the 2015 Act. The section reads as:

“(2) In case a person alleged to have committed an offence claims before a court other than a Board, that the person is a child or was a child on the date of commission of the offence, or if the court itself is of the opinion that the person was a child on the date of commission of the offence, the said court shall make an inquiry, take such evidence as may be necessary (but not an affidavit) to determine the age of such person, and shall record a finding on the matter, stating the age of the person as nearly as may be:

Provided that such a claim may be raised before any court and it shall be recognised at any stage, even after final disposal of the case, and such a claim shall be determined in accordance with the provisions contained in this Act and the rules made thereunder even if the person has ceased to be a child on or before the date of commencement of this Act.”

The counsel stated that the boy had already undergone over five years in jail and u/s 18 of the Act of 2015, a juvenile below 16 cannot be sentence to more than three years in a correctional home.

On the aspect of the accused’s sentence, the bench at the outset said,

“In view of the statutory provisions and in view of the findings recorded, the appellant having been held to be a child on the date of commission of the offence, the [death] sentence imposed has to be made ineffective. His incarceration beyond 3 years would be illegal, and therefore, he would be liable to be released forthwith on this count also,”

The legislative intent of the 2015 Act was not to make minors who had committed heinous crimes go scot-free, the bench made it clear.

In this regard, the Court explained that the object of the 2015 Act deals with the rights and liberties of juveniles, so as to ensure that can be brought into the mainstream through a lenient sentence by lodging them in a juvenile justice board-approved home/institution.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court partly allowed the appeal and set aside the death sentence.

“The conviction of the appellant is upheld; however, the sentence is set aside. Further as the appellant at present would be more than 20 years old, there would be no requirement of sending him to the JJB or any other child care facility or institution. Appellant is in judicial custody. He shall be released forthwith,” the Court ordered.


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