Severe mental illness in a condemned person post his conviction is a factor for commuting the death penalty, the Supreme Court has held.
The court held that mental illness formed post-conviction deprived the death row prisoner of his ability “to understand the implications of his actions and the consequences.”
“In this situation, the execution of such a person would lower the majesty of law... If the accused is not able to understand the impact and purpose of his execution because of his disability, the raison d’être for the execution itself collapses,” a Bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee reasoned in their April 12 judgment.
The judgment came in a case of double murder of minor girls, both aged below nine, by their neighbour in 1999. The accused, kept anonymous by the court, has been awaiting execution in prison for 17 years.
The court issued guidelines for determining post-conviction mental illness. It did not want convicts to exploit the relief as a loophole to cheat the hangman. The assessment of the disability should be done by a multi-disciplinary team of qualified professionals (medical practitioners and criminologists), including professionals with expertise in the particular mental illness of an accused, the court said.
It would be up to the convict to prove with clear evidence that he suffered from severe mental illness. He had to demonstrate active, residual or prodromal symptoms. The state could also offer evidence to rebut the claim. In appropriate cases, the courts could set up panels of experts, Justice Ramana, who authored the verdict, explained. The convict from Maharashtra had raised the plea of post-conviction illness. The court commuted his death penalty to life without remission, saying he was still a threat to society.