Between 2003 and 2006, Benson committed 12 thefts across three districts in Kerala, for which he was sentenced to 19 years in jail. His jail term began in 2003 — of the 12 thefts, two were committed while he was on bail later —and was to end in 2022. But Benson is set to walk out of jail in less than a year from today because of a Supreme Court order. A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Uday U Lalit, taking into account his good conduct as a prisoner, nature of offence and the fact that he had pleaded guilty in several of these cases, has exercised its discretionary power to club punishments in five cases.
His punishment in the eighth case has to end in August 2017 and the bench, adopting a lenient view, has held that jail term in the remaining four cases shall run along with it. Incidentally, the four cases in which Benson does not have to undergo separate jail terms anymore relate to four separate thefts on the same day in June 2003.
Although Benson’s punishment for theft in each case was between two to three years, the aggregate turned out to 19 years since he had to first complete jail term in one case and then the punishment in another case could begin.
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By July 31 this year, Benson, now in his 40s, completed more than 12 years in jail in seven such cases. So when his appeal was taken up for hearing by the Supreme Court, it first checked Benson’s records to ascertain how he was to serve 19 years in jail for thefts, which included stealing gold chains and a motorcycle.
The bench sought records from Kerala’s Director General of Prisons who disclosed that Benson, lodged in a jail in Kannur, was undergoing sentences in 12 cases for thefts across three districts — Thrissur, Kottayam and Kozhikode. In all these cases, he was convicted under charges of theft, house trespass, receiving stolen properties and criminal conspiracy. Moreover, Benson’s appeals against conviction had been dismissed by the Kerala High Court.
The records showed his first sentence began in 2003 and the jail term in the last case will end in October 2022 if he pays the fine imposed on him in these cases. In case, he could not deposit the fine, the sentence was to run out in May 2024.
Under Section 427 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, if a person is handed a jail term when he is already serving a sentence in another case, the subsequent punishment shall begin only after he has completed his time in the first case. The bench noted that under “normal rule”, it was “quite correct” to hold that Benson should remain incarcerated for at least six years more.
“However, this normal rule is subject to a qualification and it is within the powers of the court to direct that the subsequent sentence shall run concurrently with the previous sentence,” it said, while opting to exercise its discretion in favour of Benson.
The bench said it was inclined to grant benefit in respect of substantive sentences to Benson and that the jail term of two years each in four other cases shall run concurrently with the eighth case, in which the punishment ends on August 30 next year. On August 31, 2017, Benson shall be a free man if he manages to pay the fine.