For perhaps the first time, a trial judge has followed guidelines issued by Delhi HC on pronouncing the quantum of punishment in a criminal case. The Indian Express reports on what the order said — and the process that has ensured over a month’s interval between verdict and sentence.
On July 14, seven years after IT executive Jigisha Ghosh, then 28, was abducted from near her home in Vasant Vihar in south Delhi, robbed and murdered, Additional Sessions Judge Sandeep Yadav found three men — Amit Shukla, Baljeet Malik and Ravi Kapoor — guilty of the crimes.
It was a sensational case, which produced extra headlines as the Delhi Police, in the course of the investigation, also cracked the murder of journalist Soumya Vishwanathan — who was shot through her head early on September 30, 2008, allegedly by the same men who murdered Jigisha a little under six months later.
Shukla, Malik and Kapoor do not, however, know whether they will be handed the maximum penalty — death — as yet. They will have to wait until at least August 20 — when the court will begin to hear arguments on the quantum of punishment.
This is unusual — during the criminal trial of heinous crimes such as murder and rape, the conventional practice is for the sentencing to closely follow the verdict. After hearing the arguments of the defence and prosecution on the quantum of punishment, courts immediately fix the date for pronouncing the final order.
As such, in the way that he has chosen to go about the process of sentencing, ASJ Yadav may have set a precedent in criminal trials.
Yadav has followed guidelines laid down by the Delhi High Court in two cases, State Vs Bharat Singh and Vikas Yadav Vs State, and directed Delhi Police to obtain a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) from a Probation Officer (PO) before awarding the punishment. The court directed the Delhi government’s Home Department to assign a PO, and gave him four weeks to submit a report on whether (a) “there is a probability that in future, the convicts would commit criminal acts of violence as would constitute a continuing threat to society” and (b) “there is a probability that the convicts can be reformed and rehabilitated”.
The PSR must be “factual, independent and free from bias”, the court said. The PO will seek a report from the jail administration on the conduct of the convicts “in the entire period spent in jail”, followed by a “mandatory” private interview with the convicts. The convict “must be informed of his right to silence”, the court said — “as a result, in no circumstance can any adverse inference be drawn if the offender refuses to given an interview… It is advisable to allow the counsel to be present during the interviews.”
The next step would be “home investigation” — where the PO would have to meet the families of the convicts and local people “even if it requires travelling to the place from where the convicts hail”. “He will seek their inputs on the behavioural traits of the convicts” with particular reference to the probability of their being reformed or not.
After the home investigation, the PO will verify the inputs given by the convicts themselves by “consult[ing] and seek[ing] specific inputs from two professionals with not less than ten years experience from the field of clinical psychology and sociology”.
The officer should not give “undue weight” to the information, and should not “ignore the presence of the aggravating or mitigating factors”, the court said.
If the information received from other sources is “contradictory to or inconsistent” with information obtained in the course of the interview with the offender, the convict “should be interviewed a second time with the contradictory information put to him”, ASJ Yadav said.
All information in the PSR “should be classified as verified/corroborated or unverified/alleged”, said the order. “If any statement is an opinion of the PO and not based on facts, it should be so stated clearly,” it said. “More information” than is necessary for the purposes of the sentencing “should not be collected”.
It said the PO may “ascertain convictions, if any, during the trial”, and mention them in the PSR. The court has directed the PO to meet the “parents of victim and seek their inputs in the matter”.
Upon completion of the exercise, the PSR will be submitted to the court in a sealed cover. The court has said that “utmost standards of the confidentiality” of the report should be maintained.
The reader of the court will open the report — two copies will be for the court, which will be kept along with the original in the cover, one copy each will be given to each of the convicts, and one copy will be given to the prosecution.
The court has also said that counsel for defence can seek instructions on the report before making their submissions on the quantum of sentencing.