One was the meaning of “extreme youth”, which Bachan Singh said, is an important factor meriting commutation of death sentence of a convict. Should the term be understood as an accused who has just crossed the juvenile age and attained adulthood? Sonu Sardar was just 18 years and two months when he committed the crime, although his age at the time of commission of crime was wrongly recorded in the judgments as 23. Justice J.Chelameswar, one of the three Judges on the Bench, suggested that Bachan Singh used that expression because the Juvenile Justice Act at that time (in 1980 when Bachan Singh was delivered) was not uniform (across the States). The question arose as Justice Chelameswar was keen to know how the Court could conclude that there was no possibility of reformation of the convict. Raju Ramachandran, counsel for Sonu Sardar, suggested that while there could be a presumption that youth and tender age were factors which could help reformation, it could be dislodged by the prosecution.
Justice Chelameswar specifically agreed with Raju Ramachandran that the fact that the convict did not participate in the jail break could be a mitigating factor, but was reluctant to place greater weight on the jailor’s report recommending commutation of sentence for the convict on this and other grounds, as compared to the courts’ conclusion that he did not deserve commutation.
And then there are other issues: the convict was part of a five-member dacoity gang which murdered four members of a family including two children. Apart from him, and another minor, the other three are absconding. The Court was doubtful whether Sonu Sardar was guilty of giving the fatal blow to the victims, and wanted the State to produce evidence to it. It is not clear whether the State satisfied the court on this issue. The application of Section 396 IPC, therefore, is problematic, as there are precedents to show that in such cases, the Court gave benefit of doubt to the convict, and reduced the death sentence to life sentence. Besides, the only child witness did not witness the actual commission of the crime, before she ran away from the scene of the crime.
As Sonu Sardar is unlikely to benefit from the delay factor in disposing his mercy petition by the President, all doors seem to have been closed for him, unless the President gives due consideration to his second mercy petition, following the rejection of his review petition afresh by the Supreme Court.