Question: Discuss the Justification of Death Sentence' as a preventive punishment in Indian legal system.


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To explain death penalty or capital punishment, it is the highest degree of punishment that can be awarded to an individual under any penal law in force in any part of the world. It is the legal procedure of the state in which it exercises its power to take an individual’s life. It has been in existence since the inception of the State itself.


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In India, the motive behind giving the punishment relies on two aspects, the primary one is that the offender should need to suffer and the other is to discourage others from doing wrong by imposing a penalty on wrongdoers. The Indian justice system primarily based on reformative theory of punishment, but in some exceptional circumstances, it also emphasised on deterrent theory.

The supporters of deterrent theory believes that a person before committing a crime makes a logical or rational choice. If the cost of committing a crime outwaits the benefits of that crime, then it becomes a higher possibility that no one will commit that crime.

With regards to capital punishment, they list out following arguments in their favour:

1.                   there's no alternative proportional punishment for heinous crimes: imprisonment is considered as an alternate at times, but it has a lesser impact.

2.                   If one offender is punished with capital punishment, it sets an example for other offenders:

3.                   Awarding lesser punishment will act as an appeasement for the heinous criminals:

4.                   Compared to imprisonment, capital punishment is quick and painless:


Constitutional Validity of this punishment

Art. 21 of the Constitution states, “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." This means that under no circumstances right to live will be taken away, except by the due procedure established by law.

1.      Jagmohan Singh v. the State of Uttar Pradesh (1973)

In this case, the appeal was preferred to the Supreme Court by challenging constitutional validity of death sentence. The argument was made that judges had too much authority while adjudicating on matters related to death punishment, as no standards or norms were available for the same, and that violated Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

It was held that using the words “except procedure established by law”, under article 21 makes it crystal clear that deprivation of life is constitutionally permitted if done in accordance with legal procedures. Given these hints of constitutional postulates, it will be difficult to argue that the death penalty is seen as irrational or not in the public interest per se.


2.      Ediga Anamma v. the State of Andhra Pradesh (1974)

In this case, the supreme court had laid down certain factors, which should be taken into consideration in awarding the death sentence, they were: age, socio-economic, psychological, or penal compulsions, the guilt of other accused people, the absence of premeditation, and the length of time spent under the prison etc.


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3.      Bachchan Singh v State of Punjab:

in this case, the court propounded the rarest in rare doctrine, which states that the death punishment should, or can only be awarded as the last resort. Nature of crime, heinousness, background of person committing that crime, possibility to reform all such factors should be considered.


4.      Yakub Abdul Razak Memon v. the State of Maharashtra (2015)

The Supreme Court, while upholding the judgement of the lower courts, held that when the crime is of such a nature, which shocked the conscious of whole society, it should be dealt with the iron hands, i.e. should be awarded the maximum available punishment. The doctrine of rarest in rare cases was again upheld.


Also Read:

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