Different verdicts in cases of ‘rape and double murder’ and ‘kidnap and killing’

On January 28, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence awarded to a man who committed rape of his own minor daughter and later killed her and his wife, to one of imprisonment till the end of his life, holding that the death penalty should be an exception and life sentence should be the rule.

But within a week it slapped the death sentence on an accused who kidnapped a seven-year-old boy, demanded a ransom and later killed him.

A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Ibrahim Kalifulla, in separate but concurring judgments, held in the Punjab ‘double murder case’ that this was not one of the rarest of rare cases warranting imposition of the death sentence on appellant Mohinder Singh.

The appellant had raped his 12-year-old daughter in 1999 and he was awarded 12-year imprisonment by a lower court in Punjab and this was confirmed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. During parole in January 2005, he killed his wife Veena, who was a witness to the rape incident, and the daughter whom he had raped. While commuting the death sentence awarded to him by the trial court and confirmed by the High Court, the Supreme Court held that this was one of the rarest of rare cases. It sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for life, till the end of his natural life.

However, in Tuesday’s judgment, the Supreme Court slapped death penalty for ‘kidnap and murder for ransom’, holding that this case would come within the ambit of rarest of rare cases for the award of the death sentence.

Legal experts feel that the ‘rarest of rare cases’ doctrine needed a fresh look to ensure that consistency was maintained by the court in the award of punishment in heinous crimes.

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