The Supreme Court made a significant decision today, setting aside the conviction and death sentence of a man accused of kidnapping, raping, and murdering a three-month-old infant. This decision comes after the court noted that the accused did not receive a fair opportunity to defend himself during the trial, which was concluded in an astonishingly quick 23 days from the date of the crime.
A panel of judges, including Justices BR Gavai, PS Narasimha, and Prashant Kumar Mishra, heard the appeal against a December 2018 judgment by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which had upheld the conviction and sentence of Naveen, a 25-year-old street-dweller. The Supreme Court had granted leave to Naveen’s special leave petition in March 2019, temporarily staying the High Court’s judgment.
Today, after nearly a month of deliberation, the bench led by Justice Gavai pronounced that the trial court had rushed the proceedings, denying the accused a proper opportunity to defend himself. As a result, the conviction and sentence were set aside, and the case was remitted to the trial court for a fresh trial, with the directive to provide the appellant with proper legal representation.
The appellant’s legal team had argued that the trial’s rapid pace was influenced by intense media scrutiny, which impacted the fairness of the proceedings. In the judgment, Justice Mishra noted various deficiencies in the prosecution’s case and emphasized that the accused had not been given a real opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and present his defense. The court also criticized the limited time given to the appellant to produce expert witnesses during the trial.
The court stressed the importance of a fair trial, citing several legal precedents. It also highlighted the concept of ‘judicial calm,’ emphasizing the need for judges to conduct proceedings with patience and impartiality to ensure a just verdict.
In the background of the case, a horrifying incident occurred in April 2018 when a three-month-old girl was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Naveen Gadke was swiftly convicted and sentenced to death by a sessions court in just 23 days. His conviction was based on charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and various sections of the Indian Penal Code. The trial was expedited, and Naveen was sentenced to death by the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
While confirming the death sentence, the High Court judges described the crime as a heinous violation of the infant’s dignity and a grave offense against society. They considered it a “rarest of the rare” case, as it was committed without any mental distress or emotional disturbance, making it difficult to believe in the accused’s rehabilitation.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s decision to set aside Naveen’s conviction and sentence is a significant development in this tragic case, highlighting the importance of upholding the principles of a fair trial and judicial calm in the pursuit of justice.