SC accepts juvenility claim of a prisoner at the time of commission of crime, after he spent 17 years in prison; sets him free

ON Wednesday, a Supreme Court bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Abhay S. Oka allowed a Miscellaneous Application in Sanjay Patel & Ors. vs. The State of Uttar Pradesh and forthwith set the applicant-petitioner Sanjay Patel at liberty, after he spent 17 years and three days in jail, on the grounds that he was a juvenile at the time of the commission of an offence in 2004.

Patel was convicted and sentenced to undergo life imprisonment by a Sessions Court in 2006 under Section 302 (punishment for murder) of the Indian Penal Code. The Allahabad High Court rejected appeals against the decision, and the Supreme Court dismissed a Special Leave Petition filed against the high court’s decision. Patel then filed the present application at the Supreme Court contending that he was a juvenile at the time of commission of the offence grounds of juvenility. The Supreme Court, through an order on January 31, directed the Juvenile Justice Board [JJB], Maharajganj district, to inquire into his claims.

The JJB, on March 4, found that his date of birth was May 16, 1986 and that he was 17 years, 7 months and 23 days old at the time of the offence. Thus, based on the documentary evidence, as put forth by Patel, the JJB observed that he was a juvenile at the time of commission of the offence.

The Supreme Court in the present judgment observed that the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 were in force when the offence was committed. As per Section 7A of the Act inserted through an amendment in 2006, an accused was entitled to raise a claim of juvenility before any court, even after the final disposal of the case, and only the JJB constituted under Section 4 of the Act is entitled to try a juvenile in conflict with the law.

Further, the Supreme Court pointed out that as per Section 7A(2), if the JJB after inquiry holds that the accused is a juvenile on the date of commission of the offence, the court was mandated to forward them to the JJB for appropriate orders. Any sentence passed by a criminal court shall be deemed to have no effect in such a case as per this provision.

Thus, the court directed that Patel be set free as he had already undergone over 17 years of imprisonment, and it would therefore be unjust to send him to the JJB when the most stringent action possible against him would have been sending him to a special home for three years.

Click here to view the Supreme Court’s judgment.

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