Muhammad Sharif v. The State (PLD 2009 SC 709)

The death penalty should not be awarded where the accused lacked premeditation and provocation was established

Muhammad Sharif was convicted under Sections 302(b), 342 and 365 of the PPC for kidnapping for ransom and murder. He was initially acquitted by the trial court, however, on appeal, the Quetta High Court convicted Sharif and sentenced him to death. An altercation between Sharif and the deceased (son of the complainant) took place regarding payment of a sum of money. The deceased verbally abused Sharif and insulted his mother, wife and sister, which led him to push the deceased down the mountain they were on and stone him to death.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan reduced Sharif’s death sentence to imprisonment for life on grounds of provocation. The Court stated that the conduct of the deceased could not be ignored and suggested “peculiar provocative circumstances” relevant to the consideration of the quantum of the sentence. The court cited the case of Abdul Haque v. The State1 to affirm that the “plea of grave and sudden provocation on account of abusive language can be treated as mitigating circumstance in awarding sentence”.2 The Court also stated that a “death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to [have been] altogether inadequate punishment having regard to the relevant circumstances of the crime.”3 It maintained that there was still serious doubt as to the events surrounding the incident. It did not find that the crime was premeditated, but rather that Sharif had lost control and acted due to the deceased’s provocation. Due to the need to judge a man’s actions in the context of his society, the Court modified the sentence to life imprisonment.