Imposition of Capital Punishment for Gravest Offences in India
Capital punishment is a legal procedure reserved for the most severe crimes, wherein the state condemns the offender to death. This sanction is exclusively employed in situations where the nature of the crime is so heinous that no other penalty but death is deemed appropriate. It can be characterised as the authorised imposition of death as retribution for a wrongful deed. Awarding the death sentence for heinous crimes involves applying this penalty to acts committed in an inhumane manner, specifically those classified as exceptionally rare cases.
When comparing India’s approach to the death penalty with other nations, it becomes evident that many countries have abolished it, deeming the practice fundamentally incompatible with human rights standards. Countries like the UK and France have completely eliminated the death sentence, while the US and North Korea reserve it for exceptional situations or severe crimes. China stands out as one of the most active countries in carrying out capital punishment.
Iran and Saudi Arabia also exhibit a high number of executions. Globally, out of 195 UN states, 55 retain the death penalty, 106 have entirely abolished it for all crimes, 7 have eliminated it for common offences but maintain it for special circumstances like war crimes, and 28 are considered abolitionist in practice.
India, marked by a significant prevalence of crime and criminals, employs punishment for two primary reasons: to ensure the wrongdoer experiences consequences and to deter others from committing similar offences. The spectrum of penalties in India is diverse, encompassing capital punishment, imprisonment, life imprisonment, imprisonment coupled with fines, and monetary fines, among others. Capital punishment holds a crucial role in the Indian criminal justice system, reflecting its significance in addressing severe criminal offences.
What is the Death Penalty?
The legal process through which the state executes a person in order to punish them for a crime is known as the death penalty. It is also referred to as the death penalty, the hand till death, etc. A person who commits a severe crime is sentenced to death in light of the offence.
Murder, gang robbery with murder, encouraging a minor or insane person to commit suicide, fighting against the government, and encouraging an armed forces member to mutiny are all punishable by death in India. Certain anti-terror laws also provide it to anyone found guilty of terrorist offences. The court will only sentence someone to death if it determines that life in prison would not be sufficient given the facts and circumstances of the case.
What is a Heinous Crime?
There is no definition for the word “heinous” in the Indian Penal Code. Nonetheless, the judges have construed the word in a number of rulings. Crimes that strike at society’s collective conscience are considered heinous. Although there is no hard-and-fast rule for categorising these crimes, in my opinion, child rape and incidents falling under the “rarest of the rare” category are abhorrent crimes. People often feel intense aversion to these crimes. In most cases, there is no authority to impose remission under these circumstances.
The Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations have led to recent changes in the criminal law. It states that juvenile offences committed by minors are now classified according to a set age. The crime which is done by children of 16-18 years of age and done in inhuman manner are considered as rarest if rare cases.
Some sections in which heinous offences can be committed are:
A. The Indian Penal Code, 1860
- Sec. 304B: Dowry Death
- Sec. 311: Punishment of thug
- Sec. 326A: voluntarily causing grievous hurt by the use of acid.
- Sec. 370: Trafficking of persons
- Sec. 376: Punishment of rape
- Sec. 376D: Gang rape
- Sec. 397: Robbery or dacoity with an attempt to cause death or grievous hurt.
- Sec. 398: Attempt to commit robbery or dacoity when armed with a deadly weapon.
These are some sections where heinous crimes can be committed. Heinous crime means a crime that is done by a person in a very inhuman manner, like chopping the death body in peace, committing rape by kidnapping a girl several times, burning someone alive, etc., which are considered heinous crimes.
It is now a well-established truth that there is never-ending discussion over the death penalty or capital punishment in India or anywhere else in the world. Some people think that in order to prevent crime in society, the death penalty needs to be applied. On the other hand, some people think it’s unethical and that a lesser punishment is appropriate. It takes much research to fully comprehend and discuss this subject.
The main source that lists the different offences for which the death penalty is applicable is the Indian Penal Code. Numerous offences carry the possibility of the death penalty.
According to Section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a court must document any unique justifications for its decision to impose the death penalty rather than life in prison.
The seminal decision of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab created the theory of the rarest of rare situations and cleared the path for determining when the death penalty should be contemplated.
The death penalty’s constitutional legitimacy has been maintained by the Supreme Court of India in a number of previous cases, with the ruling that it should only be applied in extreme circumstances.
Death Penalty and Theories of Punishment
An individual is fined, or punished, for committing a crime. He may get a fine, a jail sentence, or possibly a death sentence, depending on what he did. As a result, a person’s punishment is determined by the offence he committed. Criminology is the study of crime and criminals. The study of criminal activity and its causes is the goal of criminology. It also looks for strategies to lessen or stop crime. However, penology is the branch of law that studies punishment and the criminal justice system. Therefore, penology would be the subject of discussion if we discussed the death sentence as a type of punishment. Penology has several theories that address punishment. There is discussion about these theories.
- Retributive Theory
This theory has its roots in the ancient Babylonian code, where it was referred to as lex talionis or the “law of retaliation,” and was contained in the Hammurabi Code. The phrase “an eye for an eye” refers to the idea that the accused will receive a punishment commensurate with the extent of the harm he committed. He would thus face the death penalty and risk having his own life taken if he took it. According to this notion, punishment can be viewed as retaliation for the crimes that someone has committed. Consequently, the death sentence would always be the appropriate punishment for murder.
- Deterrence Theory
As the name implies, this approach aims to dissuade criminal behaviour and society at large through punishment. According to this theory, the offender should receive harsh punishment, up to and including the death penalty, in order to discourage future crimes. According to this theory, the goal of punishment is to deter future crimes. As a result, criminals in society would refrain from committing new crimes out of fear of facing a harsh punishment, such as the death penalty. Opponents of this kind of punishment contend that simply incarceration would also serve as a sufficient form of deterrence and that the notion is useless in real-world situations.
Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi. The slogan “Hate the sin, not the sinner” fully aligns with the sentiment of the majority, who oppose the death sentence as a means of punishment. When someone murders another person, they are considered murderers, but what does the law become when that person is given the death penalty? This is a reality that both sides disagree on a great deal. Opponents of capital punishment propose alternative theories of punishment, such as the reformative and rehabilitative theories, which centre on deterring criminal activity and reintegrating convicted felons into society. The concept of the rarest of rare cases originated from these divergent viewpoints.
Methods of Execution in India
There are two ways that death row executions in India are carried out:
Hanging to death: This method of punishment has been used frequently in India and Europe in the past. In this method of execution, the prisoner is either forced to stand on a trapdoor with a rope around his neck until the trap is released and he falls so that the rope stops him and the jerk breaks his neck, or he is made to hang from the gallows until he passes away from hypoxia (lack of oxygen).
Execution by shooting: This mode of execution is available to the armed forces and can be imposed by the courts through a court martial.
Generally speaking, it can be said that the most common form of execution in India is hanging till death.
Capital Punishment and Human Rights
A person’s right to life and personal liberty is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, with the exception of legally prescribed processes. It is a basic right that each and every person ought to have. A person’s fundamental rights must never be violated, and this is the responsibility of the legislature and the courts. The Supreme Court ruled in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India that a person’s right to personal liberty includes both the right to privacy and the right to live with dignity. It also extends beyond the mere prohibition against physical coercion. The Indian Constitution’s Article 21 is allegedly violated by abolitionists who oppose the death penalty because it is immoral to kill someone for the purpose of killing another person. In addition, Article 7 of the convention shields everyone from cruel or humiliating treatment. It calls into question the morality and legitimacy of the death penalty. Approximately 144 nations have abolished the death sentence due to reservations about its efficacy in deterring crime, according to the Death sentence Information Centre. That represents over two-thirds of all countries on Earth. India is one of the retentionist nations that still applies the death penalty for extremely heinous crimes.
Landmark Indian Cases on Death Penalty
Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab
This case created the idea of the “rarest of rare cases,” making it a landmark case. In this instance, Bachan Singh was found guilty by the trial court of three counts of murder and given the death penalty. He filed an appeal with the Punjab and Haryana High Court, but it was denied. He filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, raising the issue of whether the death penalty is lawful. The death penalty’s constitutionality was maintained by the court hearing the case by a 4:1 margin. But it was said that only the “rarest of rare” circumstances should result in such a punishment. Bachan Singh’s sentence was reduced to life in prison because his case was not given the consideration it deserved. Nonetheless, a significant principle was established: the majority of judges thought that, in cases of an extreme kind, the death penalty should be maintained, while the dissenting judge thought that, in such cases, life in prison should be the preferable option.
Mithu v. State of Punjab
In another significant case, Section 303’s constitutionality as well as the death penalty’s legitimacy were contested. In this instance, the Supreme Court ruled that the death sentence could only be applied in accordance with legal procedure and that, as a result, Section 303 of the IPC could not be used to enforce its application. Additionally, it emphasised the right to live in human dignity and declared that all penalties under Section 303 were invalid and illegal.
Macchi Singh v. State of Punjab
Once more, it was a historic case in which standards for classifying cases as the “rarest of rare cases” were established.
The following rules were established:
- Method of murder: When the crime is carried out in a very cruel and severe manner.
- Reason(s) for carrying out the murder: Whether murder is committed out of cruelty or inhumanity must be taken into consideration.
- Social nature of the crime: If the offence is motivated by animosity towards a particular social group.
- Crime severity: It’s also important to take into account the extent of the harm caused by the crime.
- Victim’s personality: It’s important to take into account the victim’s psychological state.
Vinay Sharma v. Union of India
The Nirbhaya Gangrape Case is the most popular name for this case. Together with five other accused parties, Vinay Sharma was one of the gangrape and murder suspects. Along with the other three accused, he received a death sentence because one of them was a minor and the other committed suicide while incarcerated. The President had received a compassion appeal from the accused, which was turned down. Considering the severity of the act committed, it was decided that the mercy petition’s denial was lawful.
Manoj and Others v. State of Madhya Pradesh
In this Case, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentences of all three defendants, finding that their overall jail record of good behaviour demonstrated a willingness to change. It was also stated that prior to the imposition of the death penalty, the trial court shall provide all relevant facts about the accused.