SC: HC Cannot Enhance Sentences Without Giving Notice to the Accused

Shashwati Chowdhury

Published on: August 20, 2022 at 17:17 IST

On Friday, the Supreme Court expressed its opinion that High Courts must notify the accused before enhancing sentences.

It set aside an enhancement in which the Rajasthan High Court had modified the sentence from life simplicitor to life imprisonment till death, depriving them of the chance to present a defence.

“As a result of the judgment and order of the High Court, the sentence awarded to the appellants has been enhanced without the appellants’ having an opportunity to defend their case as to why the enhanced sentence should not be granted.”

The High Court can exercise suo moto powers and enhance the punishment, but the accused parties should have been given prior notice, according to a bench comprising of Justices B.R. Gavai and P.S. Narasimha.

The Bench also decided that the High Court’s observations, which disentitled the accused from seeking remissions or applying for premature release, should be expunged.

The Trial Court convicted the accused of the offence covered by Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. They received a life imprisonment sentence. According to the Rajasthan High Court’s, on the accused’s appeal, the crime is considered to be in the “rarest of rare category.” Although the High Court upheld the conviction, the life sentence was enhanced. The accused were ordered to undergo the remainder of their lives in prison.

The High Court noted that the trial court had failed to take note of some facts that the present case falls in the category of “rarest of the rare cases for the purpose of awarding a death sentence”.

The accused persons attacked nine members of the complainant’s family, including women and a child, according to the prosecution’s case before the Trial Court. Multiple injuries had led to the deaths of four members.

The fact that the appeal before the High Court was brought by the accused rather than the State Government challenging the trial court’s order not to impose the death penalty, as well as the admitted fact that the accused were not given the opportunity to present their case, were taken into consideration by the Apex Court in its decision to set aside the enhanced sentence.

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