NEW DELHI: A Delhi teenager who allegedly mowed down a 33-year-old professional in a Mercedes car will face trial as an adult, the juvenile justice board (JJB) ruled on Saturday, making use of India’s tough new law on underage offenders for the first time.
The board said the accused — who turned 18 four days after the incident in April — had the ability to understand the consequence of the offence and allowed Delhi Police’s plea to shift the case to a trial court.
The JJB order sets a precedent for juvenile offenders to be tried as adults in cases of heinous crimes such as rape and murder following outrage over mounting crimes by underage perpetrators.
“It will definitely set a good precedent and people will know their deep pockets cannot help them get away. From here on, parents who give their children cars for joy rides will hopefully think about it a hundred times,” the victim’s sister Shilpa Mittal told HT.
On April 4, the suspect and five friends were travelling in a speeding Mercedes car that allegedly ran over 33-year-old Siddharth Sharma in north Delhi’s Civil Lines area. Sharma would have turned 34 on Sunday.
The case sparked an outcry as activists invoked memories of the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape, where one of the convicts walked free after a three-year sentence because he was 17 at the time of the crime.
“Past cases and evidence is strong to try him as an adult,” said the board. The accused was termed a ‘perpetual defaulter’, as he was fined thrice — twice for speeding and once for parking wrongly — last year.
If convicted, the offender could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in jail. If he was tried as a minor, the maximum sentence would have been three years in a juvenile home — a quantum of punishment that is too light for serious crimes, many activists say.
Criminal cases against minors have jumped 88% since 2003, according to data from the national crime records bureau.
Cases of underage drivers causing fatal crashes are on the rise in India, where a person dies every four minutes in road accidents. But weak laws and slack enforcement often mean a long wait for justice for the victims and their families.
Under popular pressure, the government passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act last December that allowed offenders between 16 and 18 to be tried as adults.
After Saturday’s decision, deputy commissioner of police (north) Madhur Verma tweeted, “First ever judgment.. In Mercedes hit and run case juvenile offender will now face trial as an adult A big victory for prosecution!”
In the final investigation report, police charged the teenager for offences under sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 279 (driving rashly or negligently) and 337 (endangering human life).
“The juvenile was just a few days short of being a major and had a history of offences. The prosecutors worked very hard to get this case in that ambit. It is a great victory for us,” Verma said.
On April 26, the JJB had granted bail to the youth who sought the relief to appear in entrance examinations.
The juvenile’s father was arrested under Section 304 (abetting culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC for letting his minor son drive despite knowing that he had caused an accident earlier. The father was later released on bail.
The decision comes two days after HT reported that two friends of the young suspect travelling in the same Mercedes car begged him to go slow after near-misses with two bikers just before the fatal accident.