the Supreme Court has already confirmed the conviction of the man and the High Court could not acquit the accused
The Rajasthan High Court in State Of Rajasthan v Komal Lodha after finding that a death row prisoner was wrongly convicted, passed directions to the Jhalawar Superintendent of Police to reopen the case and conduct the investigation afresh in the case arising from the rape and murder of a 7-year-old.
The Bench comprising Justices Pankaj Bhandari and Anoop Kumar Dhand commuted the death penalty of the convict to a life sentence since which was only the aspect of the sentence was before the High Court. The Supreme Court has already confirmed the conviction.
the court also directed a probe into two other persons whose DNA was found and obtained from the clothes of the deceased child.
History of the case
In the case of raping and murdering a 7-year-old child accused was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty by the trial court. The High Court confirmed the conviction but commuted the death to life imprisonment;
The Supreme Court confirmed the conviction when the state appealed before it. However, The matter was remitted to the High Court to reconsider the question of the sentence.
While considering the sentence for a second time, the High Court found that the entire case rested on circumstantial evidence;
The court observed that the actual offenders were not booked whose DNA samples indicated false implications and that the two criminals who seemed to have actually committed the offense.
Hence, the case was directed to be re-opened, and the DLSA was asked to appeal against the conviction.
The High Court also commuted the death penalty of the convict to life imprisonment.
The Court noted various instances of the false implication of the accused during the investigation.
The Bench could not reverse the conviction being directed by the Supreme Court to confine its decision to the question of sentence.
“We with heavy heart and with hope that justice would be done to the accused, who has been sentenced to imprisonment till death for crime committed by two other persons, commute sentence from death penalty to life imprisonment.”
The High Court examined precedents related to the death penalty and discussed reasons that could be considered for converting the death penalty to life imprisonment.
In order to strike a balance between the cumulative effects of both aggravating and mitigating circumstances the Court should consider both, the court held.
The bench observed the entire case was based on circumstantial evidence. It was taken into account that reliance had been placed by the court on the DNA report as per which, the DNA profiles of two males were obtained from the leggings of the victim.
The same profiles were also obtained from the underwear of the accused. However, it did not match that of the accused’s blood sample.
“The two male DNA profile obtained from the leggings of the deceased did not match with the DNA profile of the blood sample taken from the accused, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the above is that the two criminals who actually committed the crime were not booked by the police,” the court observed.
The High Court also took into account that the accused was not given an opportunity to explain his DNA report.
Added to this it was considered that as per the school record of the accused he was a minor at the time of the offense, he did not have any criminal background, and had shown good conduct in jail.
“The State has not come up with any material to show that the accused is a threat to the society or that he cannot be reformed.”
The Bench highlighted that the cardinal rule of criminal law is that a hundred guilty may be acquitted, but one innocent should not be held guilty.
It was stated that this rule was followed to ensure that overzealous prosecution did not result in the conviction of an innocent man.
“The reason for this is to ensure that the police and prosecution do their job right, and to ensure that an overzealous prosecution does not result in an innocent man being convicted of a crime, he did not commit, otherwise people would not have faith and respect for the justice delivery system,” the Bench said.
The High Court opined that the two others who had committed the crime diverted blame to the accused with the help of the police.
The material facts regarding the age of the accused and the DNA evidence were not brought to the apex court’s attention, and no assistance was provided to the appellant before the top court, the court underscored.
Therefore, the Secretary of the Rajasthan State Legal Services Authority was directed to appeal against the previous judgment of the High Court converting the accused’s death sentence to life imprisonment.
Further, the Bench in the instant case directed the Jhalawar Superintendent of Police to reopen the matter and investigate afresh the two accused whose DNA samples were obtained from the leggings of the victim.
The High Court further ordered to initiate appropriate action against those who booked the accused belonging to a backward class and had no means to defend his case.
“Superintendent of Police, Jhalawar, should submit report of the action taken by him within two months of the date of this order”.
The high court was limited to its jurisdiction, the Court only commuted the death penalty awarded to the accused, to life imprisonment.
Advocate Nitin Jain appeared for the accused pro bono (without payment).
The State was represented by Additional Government Advocate Rekha Madnani.