The Death Penalty, also known as capital punishment, involves executing a person who has been convicted of a serious criminal offense. It is the most severe punishment that can be given to someone found guilty of crimes like murder, rape, or treason. Proponents of the death penalty argue that it serves as a strong deterrent and is a fitting punishment for the most heinous crimes. On the other hand, opponents view it as cruel and inhumane. This has sparked an ongoing global debate about the morality of the death penalty, with many criminologists and social activists advocating for its abolition.
- In 98 countries, the death penalty has been eliminated.
- A report from Project 39A at the National Law University in Delhi found that as of 2021, there were 488 people in India awaiting the death penalty. This represents a 21% increase in the number of individuals facing this punishment.
Death Penalty in India
- In India, the death penalty is given for severe crimes such as murder, rape causing fatal injuries, robbery with murder, aiding the suicide of a mentally ill minor, supporting mutiny within the armed forces, participating in acts of terrorism, and waging war against the government.
- In the case of Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court made a significant decision. They established that the death penalty should only be applied in extremely exceptional cases, often referred to as the ‘Rarest of the Rare’ cases.
- In the case of Machhi Singh vs. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court introduced two criteria to determine these ‘Rarest of the Rare‘ cases.
- The court decided that the death penalty should only be imposed when there’s absolutely no doubt that a life sentence would be unjust.
- To make this decision, two key factors need to be considered:
- The crime must have an unusual aspect that makes a life sentence inappropriate.
- Even after considering all factors that support the accused, if the crime’s circumstances still make a life sentence insufficient, then the death penalty may be considered.
- The Supreme Court emphasized the importance of striking a balance between the aggravating factors that make a crime more serious and the mitigating factors that favor the accused.
Constitutionality of Death Penalty
- The court doesn’t challenge the legality of the death penalty.
- This has been firmly established by the highest court, as seen in the Deena v. Union of India case and earlier in the 1980 Bachan Singh case.
- Section 354 (5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prescribes hanging as the method of execution, has already been found to be valid.
Law Commission on Death Penalty
- In 2013, the Supreme Court tasked the Law Commission with the question of whether the death penalty serves as a deterrent or if it simply seeks retribution.
- In their 2015 report, the Law Commission, under the leadership of Justice A P Shah, suggested that the death penalty should be abolished for all crimes except those related to terrorism and acts of war.
- According to the Law Commission’s findings, India is one of the few countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, that continue to carry out executions.
Views of States
- Twelve out of the fourteen states and union territories have responded to the Home Ministry, expressing their support for keeping the death penalty intact. They believe that it plays a crucial role in deterring individuals from committing heinous crimes like murder and rape.
- The Home Ministry had sent a proposal to abolish the death penalty to the states and union territories. This proposal was based on the recommendations put forth by the Law Commission of India (LCI).
Views against Death Penalty
- The “Rarest of the Rare” concept is vague and gives courts too much leeway to decide on death sentences hastily, which is a problem.
- It goes against the right to life and personal freedom guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
- The effectiveness of death sentences in achieving any rehabilitative purposes is in question.
- Justice P.N. Bhagwati, in a different viewpoint during the Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab case, argued that Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, which allows for the death penalty as an alternative to life imprisonment, falls outside the legal authority. As a result, it’s unconstitutional and violates both Article 14 by undermining the rule of law and Article 21 by infringing on personal rights.
Supreme Court Seeks less painful means of execution
The government informed the Supreme Court that, currently, hanging is the most practical way to carry out executions for condemned prisoners because other methods like lethal injections are unreliable and often do not work effectively.
Death by Lethal Injections
Lethal injection is a method used for carrying out the death penalty in countries like the U.S., China, Thailand, Vietnam, and a few others. In the past, the Law Commission of India suggested using lethal injection as a means of administering the death penalty.