December 16 gangrape case: Supreme Court reserves verdict on appeals of four convicts
The Supreme Court today reserved its verdict on appeals of four convicts against the conviction and award of death penalty in the December 16, 2012 gangrape and murder case that had shaken the entire nation's conscience.
Besides dealing with the challenge to the conviction, the court is also deliberating on the issue of the quantum of sentence to the convicts as it has been alleged that the trial court did not separately consider "mitigating" circumstances of each convicts while sending them to the gallows.
While Delhi Police sought capital punishment for the convicts, the defence counsel said they deserve leniency considering their poor family background and young age.
The police told a three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra that the horrific crime committed by these men warranted death penalty and the test of being a "rarest of rare" case was satisfied in this matter.
Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, representing the police, argued that the court should also consider the effect of the crime committed by them on the victim and the society at large.
"The way they (convicts) brutalised the young lady warrants death penalty," he told the bench, also comprising Justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan.
"The right of a girl to come out on the street at night cannot be taken away by such persons who say they want to have some fun," he said.
"What could be a more horrific crime than this? What is the answer to the victim's parents who have suffered mental trauma and agony throughout this period? The loss of a young daughter cannot be quantified," Luthra said.
However, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae, said there was no doubt that the crime committed was of "immense proportion" but "does the response to that tragedy requires taking away four lives".
He said that the offence and crime committed was "brutal" but as the evidence was not concrete, it does not warrant death penalty.
Senior counsel Raju Ramachandran, who is also assisting the court as amicus curiae, told the bench that the option of awarding jail term for the whole life to these convicts may also be considered.
The bench, while reserving the verdict, asked the parties concerned to file their written submissions within a week.
The convicts -- Mukesh, Pawan, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Kumar Singh -- have approached the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court's order which had confirmed the death penalty awarded to them by the trial court.
During the hearing, advocates A P Singh and M L Sharma, representing the four convicts, said that they should be given a chance to reform and considering the mitigating factors, the court should not award them death penalty.
They also raised questions about the evidence collected by the police in the matter.
However, Luthra countered their submissions and said, "They have not been given any mitigating circumstances which could warrant reduction of the sentence from death penalty which was awarded to them."
He said as per report of the Tihar jail authorities, the conduct of these convicts in the prison was "unsatisfactory", a submission refuted by the defence counsel.
The 23-year-old paramedic was brutally assaulted and raped by six persons in a moving bus in south Delhi and thrown out of the vehicle with her male friend on the night of December 16, 2012. She had died in a Singapore hospital on December 29, 2012.
On February 3, the apex court bench prima facie agreed with the contention of Ramachandran that the provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), relating to sentencing of convicts, has not been followed in letter and spirit by the trial court.
It was submitted that section 235 of the CrPC provides that an accused, in the event of conviction, would be heard by on the question of sentencing individually before the trial judge passes the order awarding punishment.
The bench had then mulled ways to rectify the apparent error and said there are two modes -- either the case be remanded back to the trial court to pass a fresh order on the sentence or the apex court itself hears this aspect of the matter afresh.
The trial court had awarded death penalty to the four convicts. Prime accused Ram Singh allegedly committed suicide in his cell in Tihar jail in March 2013 and proceedings against him were abated.
Earlier also, the court had asked the convicts to file their response detailing mitigating circumstances on the issue of sentencing.
The convicts had approached the apex court against the high court's March 13, 2014 verdict which had observed that their offence fell in the rarest of the rare category and had upheld the death sentence awarded to them by the trial court.