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Supreme Court quotes Spiderman dialogue – with great power comes greater responsibility – to slamming police excessiveness in 25-year-old custodial death case

The Supreme Court, on Tuesday (September 4), upheld the conviction of eight personnel of the Maharashtra Police in connection with a 1993 custodial death case and enhanced their sentence from three years to seven years of rigorous imprisonment. The cops had been convicted to the milder term by the trial court and the sentence was later upheld by the high court.

Starting his verdict with the oft-quoted dialogue from the Spiderman movies – “With great power comes greater responsibility” – Justice NV Ramana, who authored the judgment, said: “As the police in this case are the violators of law, who had the primary responsibility to protect and uphold law, thereby mandating the punishment for such violation to be proportionately stringent so as to have effective deterrent effect and instill confidence in society.”

The top court’s bench comprising Justices Ramana and MM Shantanagoudar said that such incidents, involving the police and brutality by them, tend to erode people’s confidence in the criminal justice system more than in cases involving private individuals.

The bench said it was important for the police to recognise the concept of “democratic policing”, where crime control was not only the end but the means to achieve this order was also equally important. “Those who are called upon to administer the criminal law must bear in mind that they have a duty not merely to the individual accused before them, but also to the State and to the community at large,” the verdict said.

Holding the cops guilty under Section 330 IPC (voluntarily causing hurt to extort confession, or to compel restoration of property) for the custodial torture and resultant death of one Joinus on June 24, 1993, the court said that it was clear from the evidence on record that the accused cops “knew that the identity of the deceased (Joinus) was different from the person they wanted to investigate” but that in a “pure act of lawlessness that does not befit the conduct of the police” the accused cops still took Joinus and his family members under custody and tortured them.

According to the prosecution, officers of the Maharashtra Police while on a patrol picked up Joinus alleging theft at 1 am on June 23, 1993. It was alleged that the police tied him to an electric pole outside his house and beat him with sticks. After taking him to various places, he was locked up at 3.55 am that day but was found dead the next morning.

“The factual narration of the events portrayed, herein, narrates a spiteful events of police excessiveness. The motive to falsely implicate Joinus for a crime he was alien to was not befitting the police officers investigating crimes. The manner in which Joinus was taken during late night from his house for investigation ignores the basic rights this country has guaranteed its citizen. It is on record that injuries caused to the individual were in furtherance of extracting a confession,” the Supreme Court said.

“In the facts and circumstances of this case, the punishment of three-year imprisonment imposed by the trial court under section 330 of IPC would be grossly insufficient and disproportional. We deem it appropriate to increase the term of sentence to the maximum imposable period under Section 330 of IPC i.e., seven years of rigorous imprisonment while maintaining the fine imposed by the trial court,” the bench ruled.

Read judgement here.

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