Muhammad Ismail v. The State (2017 SCMR 713)

Where the prosecution fails to prove motive, the death penalty should not be awarded. Confessions obtained without regard to due process are absolutely inadmissible. The Court may consider the particular sociocultural context of the defendant as a relevant mitigating factor.

Muhammad Ismail was charged for the murder of his own brother. He was convicted under Section 302(b) of the PPC. and sentenced to death. The Lahore High Court confirmed the conviction and sentence. The accused never recorded a confession, and did not plead guilty. However, at trial, the accused admitted to the offence in his statements under oath as per Cr.P.C section 340(2), and he re-affirmed that admission under questioning from the trial court judge as under Cr.P.C 342. Both the trial court and the High Court relied heavily on Ismail’s confession in convicting him.

On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ismail’s statement amounted to an admission, not a confession, as they did not meet the criteria to be legally admissible.

Moreover, as motive, the prosecution had alleged that Ismail had demanded that the deceased give his daughter’s hand in marriage to their cousin, but the deceased had refused. The only evidence to support such motive was the testimony of the complainant, the deceased’s widow. The Supreme Court found her testimony alone to be insufficient evidence to prove the motive. and stated that “once the prosecution sets up a particular motive but fails to prove the same, then, ordinarily capital sentence of death is not awarded, which is a consistent view of the Courts since long.1

The Supreme Court also showed leniency since the crime was committed in a rural area, and the appellant was motivated by communitarian or familial enmities saying that “some detestable affairs in the family of the deceased were prevailing, rendering the appellant unable to bear the stigma/blot on the escutcheon (family honour).”2

The Supreme Court also meditated on the more general cultural and economic factors that may have motivated Ismail:“The appellant has shown allegorically his typical rustic character of dignity, not to go for washing a dirty linen in public, at the cost of his own life. The appellant has apparently muffled, what was probably going seriously wrong in the family of the deceased, having a young virgin daughter of vulnerable age and the complainant, his wife too, was of the age of 28. Probably the appellant decided to withhold the true motive for the sake of family honour, a typical characteristic of dignity and virtues, still possessed by the rustic countrymen of our rural society.”3

On the basis of the foregoing reasons, the Supreme Court commuted Ismail’s sentence to imprisonment for life.