The Supreme Court Friday sought a response from the Andhra Pradesh government on a plea filed by a convict undergoing life sentence in a 2011 murder case, seeking a direction to the state to verify his claim of juvenility.
The petitioner, confined in central prison Hyderabad and whose conviction and sentence were upheld by the high court concerned in November last year, has claimed that going by the school certificate, his date of birth is recorded as August 10, 1994, and he was almost 17-year-old at the time of the offence in December 2011.
The matter came up for hearing before a bench comprising Justice S K Kaul and Justice Aravind Kumar.
Advocate Rishi Malhotra, appearing for the petitioner, said the petitioner has already undergone more than 11 years in custody and as per the certificate of school which he had first attended, he was a juvenile at the time of the offence.
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”Have you raised this issue before the high court? You have filed an Article 32 petition here. You are saying that plea of juvenility can be raised at any stage,” the bench observed.
Malhotra said the petitioner has undergone custody of over 11 years though the maximum sentence prescribed under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, is only three years.
”Issue notice,” the bench said.
In his plea, the petitioner said it has been filed solely on the ground of juvenility and he does not intend to challenge his conviction under section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code.
The plea said it is only confined to a limited prayer that if upon due enquiry, it is found that the petitioner was indeed a juvenile at the time of the incident, then the sentence awarding life imprisonment needs to be set aside and he deserves to be released forthwith.
”In the instant case, the date of the incident is December 12, 2011, and as per the school certificate (first attended), the date of birth of the petitioner was recorded as August 10, 1994. Meaning thereby, the petitioner was almost 17 years as on the date of incident and thus, was a juvenile,” the plea said.
It referred to section 7A of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, which deals with procedures to be followed when the claim of juvenility is raised before the court, and section 20 which pertains to special provisions in respect of pending cases.
”Moreover, section 12 mandates that any person who is apparently a juvenile has to be released on bail as the word used is ‘shall’ and not ‘may’. Furthermore, section 16 of the Act categorically stipulates in no eventuality a juvenile can be sentenced either for a death sentence or for life imprisonment,” the plea said.
The plea said the interest of justice demand that the petitioner be immediately released on bail and the apex court may direct an enquiry about the veracity of the documents placed on record by him about the claim of juvenility and further call for a report within a specified period so that his miseries come to an end.
It said the petitioner was born in August 1994 which fact is established by virtue of study and conduct certificate of July 22, 2000, issued by the headmaster of the school. The plea said the petitioner only attended class I and thereafter, due to poverty, left the school and did not study further.
The petitioner said the trial court had convicted him in December 2013 and he was sentenced to undergo life imprisonment in a case of murder of a 70-year-old man and that order was later upheld by the high court.