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Sending first-time offenders to prison could encourage them to commit crimes rather than rehabilitate them: P&H HC

Punjab and Haryana High Court: In the appeal filed by the appellant challenging the judgment dated 02.05.2022 passed by the Judge of the Court of Appeal of Panipat (“Court of Appeal”), Manish Batra, J.found that the object underlying the provisions of Sections 4 and 6 of the Supervision Act, 1958 (“Supervision Act”) and Sections 360 and 361 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CPC”) was that first offenders should not be sent to prison for committing less serious offences, in view of the grave risk to their lives as they are likely to be exposed to the hardened and habitual prison offenders. Thus, having regard to the suffering and trauma experienced by the accused, the Court held that there would be no useful purpose in sending them back to prison to serve out the remaining period of their sentences. Accordingly, the Court held that the impugned judgment was well reasoned and based on settled legal principles and found no infirmity or illegality therein.

Background

In the instant case, an FIR was registered against Respondents 2-6 (“the accused persons”) under Sections 323, 325, 341, 34 of the Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) on the allegations that the accused wrongly restrained the complainant and caused hurt to him. The Principal Judicial Magistrate, Panipat, after appreciating the entire material placed on record, held Respondents 2-6 guilty of committing the offences punishable under Sections 341, 323, 325 of the IPC read with Section 34 of the IPC and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a maximum period of one year. An appeal was filed thereafter, whereupon the Apex Court vide its judgment dated 02-05-2022 ordered the accused persons to be released on probation.

In connection with this, the petitioner, aggrieved by the contested judgment, filed this petition. The question for consideration before the Court was whether the Court of Appeal was right in granting the defendants a probation period.

Analysis, Law and Decision

The court said that the object underlying the provisions of Sections 4 and 6 of the Probation Act and Sections 360 and 361 of the CrPC was that first offenders should not be sent to jail for committing minor offences, in view of the grave risk to their lives as they are likely to be exposed to the hardened and habitual jail criminals. The court said that in such circumstances their stay in jail may incline them to a life of crime instead of reforming them. This would clearly do more harm than reform them and for that reason would also be detrimental to the larger interests of the society.

The court found that the sole intention of the legislature in enacting the probation laws was to provide a chance for reform for a certain type of person that he would not receive if he were sent to prison. The types of people who were considered for probation laws were those who were not hardened or dangerous criminals, but those who committed crimes under the influence of a momentary weakness of character or a tempting situation. The court found that by placing an offender on probation, the Court protected him from the stigma of life in prison and from the corrupting influence of hardened prisoners. Probation also helped eliminate overcrowding in prisons by keeping many criminals out of prison.

The court further found that it had sufficient authority to release the first-time offender on probation, taking into account the nature and manner of committing the offence, the age of the offender, and other circumstances preceding and accompanying the offence, instead of sentencing him to imprisonment.

The Court noted that the Court of Appeal had observed that the accused were neither hardened criminals nor recidivists. They had families to support and were remorseful for their actions. Thus, considering the suffering and trauma that the accused had experienced, the Court found that sending them back to prison to serve out the remaining term of their sentences would serve no useful purpose. Accordingly, the Court found that the judgment appealed against was well-reasoned and based on established legal principles and did not find any weakness or illegality.

(Virender v. State of Haryana, CRR No. 51 of 2023, decided on 03-07-2024)


Attorneys representing in this case:

On behalf of the Applicant: Sunny Tyagi, Advocate

For Respondents: Nidhi Garg, AAG, Haryana.

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