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Death Row Prisoners: Matter of Life and Death

On October 10th, we recognize the "International Day against the Death Penalty." Capital punishment, which is a legal death penalty, is used in India only for the most serious crimes. The authority to confirm death sentences in India lies with the High Courts, as stated in Section 368 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. This ensures a thorough review process for such grave decisions. Executions are carried out by hanging by the neck until death as the primary method of execution as noted under Section 354(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and is awarded only in the 'rarest of cases'.

Death row prisoners are individuals who find themselves facing the gravest of legal consequences - execution - due to convictions for especially heinous crimes in regions where the death penalty remains a legal recourse. These prisoners inhabit a realm of uncertainty, awaiting the finality of their fate while navigating a complex web of legal processes and appeals. The sentencing phase, a pivotal moment in their journey, often involves meticulous deliberations, where courts decide whether the ultimate punishment of death is warranted based on the nature of the crime.

Even in 2022, the death penalty remains a legal punishment in 80 countries. In some of these nations, people are executed for opposing authoritarian governments and standing up for their basic rights. In these places, the death penalty is also used as a means to scare and silence individuals. There are still 55 countries worldwide that continue to enforce the death penalty. But each year, this number diminishes. The representatives from125 countries gathered in Berlin from 15 November, 2022 in order to advance the universal abolition of capital punishment.

Grounds for Commutation of Death Sentence to Life Sentence
In India, the death penalty can be commuted to a life sentence in several situations, as outlined by the Indian legal system. Some of the common grounds for commuting a death sentence to life imprisonment include:
  • If the convict is found to be suffering from severe mental illness or disability to the extent that they cannot understand the nature and purpose of their punishment, their death penalty may be commuted.
  • Excessive delays in the execution of the death penalty can lead to its commutation. The Supreme Court of India has held that inordinate and inexplicable delays in carrying out the execution can be a ground for commutation.
  • The President of India or the Governor of a state has the power to grant clemency or pardon, which can result in the commutation of a death sentence to life imprisonment.
  • If there are supervening circumstances that make the execution of the death penalty unjust or inhuman, it may be commuted. This can include factors such as changes in the convict's physical or mental health.
  • If it is determined that the person sentenced to death was a juvenile at the time of the crime, their sentence may be commuted. Juveniles cannot be sentenced to death in India.
  • If new evidence emerges that establishes the innocence of the convict, it can lead to the commutation of the death sentence.
  • India is a signatory to international treaties that prohibit the execution of mentally ill individuals or juveniles. Compliance with these treaties may lead to commutation.

It's important to note that the specific criteria and grounds for commutation may vary depending on the circumstances of each case and the decisions of the courts. Ultimately, the decision to commute a death sentence to life imprisonment is made by the judiciary or, in certain cases, by the executive authorities.

Death Row Population in India and the US
As of December 31, 2021, India's death row population stood at 488 individuals, marking a significant increase of nearly 21% from the previous year. Among the Indian states, Uttar Pradesh held the highest number of death row inmates, with a total of 86 individuals awaiting execution. This surge in the death row population represents the highest figure recorded since 2004, according to data sourced from the National Crime Records Bureau's Prison Statistics report.

As of the most recent data, the total number of individuals in the United States who were either on death rows or awaiting capital retrials or re-sentencing stood at 2,363. This number represented a decrease of 31 individuals since July 1, 2022, and a more significant decrease of 92 individuals (3.7%) from the figure reported on July 1, 2022. Notably, the convictions or death sentences of 188 individuals on death row had been reversed, pending retrial, resentencing, or the completion of the appeals process. Consequently, 2,175 prisoners remained facing active death sentences, reflecting a decrease of 24 from the previous quarter.

A substantial portion of individuals on U.S. death row, specifically 855 prisoners or 36.2%, found themselves in states where moratoria on executions were in effect. In contrast, 1,367 prisoners in 23 states, constituting 58% of the death row population, had death sentences categorized as active and enforceable by the legal framework. These statistics underscore the dynamic and evolving nature of the capital punishment landscape in the United States.

Legal avenues are not entirely closed to death row inmates. In several countries, including the United States, they have the right to launch appeals, seeking to overturn their convictions or sentences. These appeals may challenge various aspects of their cases, such as claims of inadequate legal representation, the emergence of new evidence, or violations of constitutional rights. The pursuit of these appeals becomes a lifeline for some, potentially prolonging their time on death row.

The road from sentencing to execution is fraught with uncertainty and can span years, if not decades. This protracted period of waiting varies based on the legal system, the complexity of the case, and the effectiveness of legal representation. Meanwhile, death row inmates often confront the grim reality of their impending fate, experiencing the psychological toll of prolonged uncertainty.

The issue of capital punishment remains a contentious topic, sparking global discussions on ethics, human rights, and the possibility of irrevocable errors in a system designed to administer the ultimate punishment. While some nations and regions have abolished the death penalty, others grapple with its place in a modern justice system, leaving this complex issue far from resolved.

Death Sentence in India
The year 2020 witnessed 94 individuals being sentenced to the ultimate punishment of death across India, as per recent data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). This grim statistic adds to the existing roster of 413 death row prisoners incarcerated throughout the country until the close of the same year. Among the states, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan reported the highest number of new death sentences, with 15 individuals each facing this severe fate, followed closely by West Bengal (14), Bihar (8), Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand (6 each).

However, the path to execution is not always inevitable. The NCRB's report also reveals that the death sentences of 29 convicts were commuted to life imprisonment in 2020. Maharashtra recorded the highest number of commutations, with 7 individuals spared from the gallows, followed by Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu (5 each). These commutations highlight the complexities and uncertainties inherent in the legal process surrounding capital punishment.

In the broader context, these statistics reflect the delicate balance between justice, human rights, and the irreversibility of the death penalty. With 413 convicts on death row accounting for a fraction of the total prison population, the issue of capital punishment continues to provoke ethical, legal, and societal debates throughout India. Uttar Pradesh, with 53 such convicts, leads the list, followed by Maharashtra (49) and Madhya Pradesh (40). The statistics underscore the enduring challenges and dilemmas associated with the death penalty in the Indian legal landscape.

Psychology of Death Row Prisoners
The psychology of death sentence prisoners is an intricate and multifaceted realm, characterized by a spectrum of emotional, psychological, and social challenges. These individuals, condemned to the ultimate punishment, grapple with profound and often overwhelming emotions. The anticipation of execution gives rise to intense fear, anxiety, depression, and a sense of hopelessness, as they confront the harrowing uncertainty surrounding their future, bearing the heavy knowledge that their lives hang in the balance.

In response to their dire circumstances, death row prisoners develop various coping mechanisms. For some, religion becomes a refuge, offering solace and spiritual support during their darkest hours. Others turn inward, engaging in self-reflection and meditation as a means to discover inner peace amidst the turmoil. Additionally, many become deeply involved in their legal defense, seeing it as a source of hope and distraction. The arduous process of appealing their conviction and sentence can consume a substantial portion of their time and emotional energy, offering a glimmer of optimism amid adversity.

The isolation imposed upon death row inmates further compounds their psychological challenges. Solitary confinement is a common practice, intensifying feelings of isolation and loneliness. Prolonged periods of isolation can trigger severe mental health issues, including hallucinations and debilitating anxiety. Maintaining relationships with loved ones outside the prison walls is a formidable task due to physical separation and the stigma associated with their circumstances, causing both death row prisoners and their families to grapple with emotional distress. Some prisoners also wrestle with the weight of guilt and remorse for their crimes, particularly if their actions have caused harm to innocent victims. Psychological assessments are often conducted to evaluate their mental state and competency, impacting legal proceedings, including appeals related to mental fitness.

Living under the constant specter of execution, known as the "death row phenomenon," exerts profound psychological effects. These enduring traumas can persist long after commutation of the death sentence, underscoring the deep scars left by the experience. Amid these challenges, some death row prisoners demonstrate remarkable resilience, engaging in educational pursuits, artistic endeavors, or activism from behind bars, seeking to maintain a sense of purpose and hope.

The psychology of death sentence prisoners is a deeply intricate and often heart-wrenching domain, shaped by a unique combination of individual histories, legal processes, and personal coping strategies. Mental health professionals, prison staff, and support organizations play vital roles in addressing the psychological needs of these individuals, recognizing the formidable nature of their circumstances. Simultaneously, debates surrounding the ethical and human rights dimensions of the death penalty continue to influence discussions about the psychology of those who face it.

In one incident in Presidency Correction Home of Kolkata, West Bengal, a death row prisoner killed himself by injuring his stomach with a blade after his plea for turning his death sentence to life sentence on mental illness ground was rejected after he was declared mentally sound during mental health check up.

Legal Process before Execution of a Prisoner Sentenced to Death
In India, the legal journey leading to the execution of a prisoner sentenced to death is a comprehensive and multi-layered process. It is meticulously designed to ensure that the individual facing the ultimate penalty is afforded a fair and just determination of their fate.

The process begins with a criminal trial where the accused is prosecuted for the alleged capital offense. If the accused is found guilty, the trial may then move to the sentencing phase. During this stage, especially prevalent in the Indian legal system, both the prosecution and defense present evidence related to the defendant's background, the particulars of the crime, and any factors that could either mitigate or aggravate the sentencing decision.

Following the trial, a critical phase unfolds. In India, death penalty cases undergo an automatic review by a High Court, which scrutinizes not only the conviction but also the appropriateness of the death sentence. Should the High Court confirm the death penalty, the defendant retains the right to appeal to the Supreme Court of India. Here, the Supreme Court conducts a comprehensive review, examining legal errors, potential constitutional violations, and any miscarriages of justice. If the Supreme Court upholds the death sentence, the defendant may subsequently seek a review of the verdict.

Further avenues for review are available to the condemned. In cases where the Supreme Court confirms the death sentence, a review petition may be filed with the same court, though the grounds for review are restricted primarily to errors evident on the face of the legal record.

Clemency offers another layer of consideration. Under Article 72 of the Indian Constitution, the President has the authority to grant pardons, reprieves, and respites. The defendant or their legal representatives can present a mercy petition, which is evaluated by the relevant State Governor or the President, depending on the jurisdiction.

However, if all appeals and clemency petitions are exhausted and the death sentence remains intact, the legal system proceeds with the issuance of an execution warrant. This document specifies the date and time of the impending execution, marking the culmination of a lengthy and rigorous legal process.

Throughout this process, the specific legal procedures and available avenues of appeal can vary, contingent upon the nature of the crime and the jurisdiction within India. Notably, international human rights organizations and legal experts remain vigilant in their scrutiny of India's death penalty system, raising concerns regarding delays, potential arbitrariness in application, and adherence to international human rights standards.

Prisoners awaiting Death Sentence

Prisoners sentenced to death, awaiting the fateful day of execution, grapple with an uncertain timeline. The average duration between the pronouncement of the death sentence and its grim culmination remains elusive. In 2016, Project 39A offered insights into this ambiguity. Individuals with pending appeals in the Supreme Court experienced a median period of incarceration exceeding six years, while those whose pleas for a presidential pardon were denied endured a median period of nearly 17 years. Remarkably, the most protracted period of such incarceration extended an agonizing 25 years.

In 1983, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court rendered any delay exceeding a two-year interval between the death sentence and execution illegal (T.V. Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu). Subsequently, in 2014, a crucial change was implemented, mandating a 14-day gap between notifying prisoners of the rejection of their mercy petition and the execution itself. This provision aimed to allow relatives precious moments for visitation and farewells (Shatrugan Chauhan v. Union of India). Nonetheless, the case of Yakub M. in 2015 exemplified the stark realities of this process, as he was hanged mere hours after the Supreme Court dismissed his final mercy plea, casting a somber shadow over the intricate legal journey faced by death row inmates in India.

Execution Methods Used in 2022
In 2022, several methods of execution continued to be used by various countries around the world, albeit with varying degrees of frequency and controversy. These methods have evolved over time, reflecting changes in societal norms, legal standards, and available technology. Here, we will elaborate on four common execution methods employed in 2022:

Beheading is a method of execution that involves decapitating the condemned individual. Historically, it has been employed in various forms across different cultures and time periods, often as a public spectacle. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been the most notable country to employ beheading as a method of execution. In Saudi Arabia, executions by beheading are typically carried out in public squares, attracting international attention and criticism.

Hanging is one of the oldest and most widely used methods of execution. It involves suspending the condemned person by the neck with a noose until they suffocate or break their neck. The drop length and type of knot used can influence the speed and effectiveness of the execution. Several countries, including India, Iran, Japan, and some U.S. states, continued to use hanging as a method of execution in 2022, although its use has declined in some places in favor of other methods.

Lethal Injection
Lethal injection is a method of execution that involves administering a series of drugs to induce death. It is considered a more humane alternative to some older methods. The drugs typically used include an anesthetic or sedative, a paralytic agent, and a drug that induces cardiac arrest. The intention behind this combination is to guarantee a swift and painless demise. The United States is one of the most prominent countries to use lethal injection as its primary method of execution, although controversies surrounding the availability and effectiveness of execution drugs have raised significant ethical and legal concerns.

Execution by shooting involves firing bullets into the body of the condemned person, typically aiming at vital organs to ensure a quick death. This method is used in several countries, including China and some Middle Eastern nations. In some cases, a firing squad is employed, where multiple individuals simultaneously shoot the condemned person to distribute the responsibility among the shooters. China, in particular, has faced international scrutiny for its use of execution by shooting.

It's important to note that the use of these execution methods has sparked significant ethical, human rights, and legal debates. Many countries and international organizations, including the United Nations, advocate for the abolition of the death penalty due to concerns about its application, cruelty, and the potential for wrongful convictions. The choice of execution method can be influenced by a country's legal system, cultural norms, and historical practices, leading to significant variation in how the death penalty is carried out worldwide.

Executions in 2022
In the year 2022, the practice of capital punishment persisted in various countries across the globe, with at least 21 nations carrying out executions. The United States conducted 18 executions, reflecting the ongoing debate over the death penalty within the region. In the Asia-Pacific region, Bangladesh executed four individuals, and Japan carried out a single execution.

However, the precise number of executions in the populous nation of China and the secretive state of North Korea remains shrouded in secrecy, highlighting the challenges of obtaining accurate information regarding executions in these countries. Nearby, Myanmar executed four individuals, while Singapore, known for its strict laws, carried out 11 executions. Vietnam's exact numbers remained undisclosed, underscoring the difficulties in tracking executions in this region.

Moving to Europe, Belarus maintained the practice of capital punishment, although the specific number of executions was not publicly available. In the Middle East and North Africa, several nations recorded executions, including Iran with over 596 confirmed cases, Saudi Arabia with 146 executions and Kuwait with seven.

However, the precise figures for Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen were elusive, emphasizing the opacity surrounding execution statistics in the region. Moreover, some countries, like Libya, were reported to have conducted extrajudicial executions, raising concerns about human rights violations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia executed 19 individuals, while South Sudan carried out two executions.

Notably, among the countries mentioned, three of the five People's Republics, namely Bangladesh, China, and North Korea, continued to implement the death penalty, showcasing the divergent approaches to this contentious issue. Additionally, within the realm of developed nations, four countries, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States, upheld the practice of capital punishment, demonstrating the complexities and differing perspectives surrounding the death penalty on the global stage in 2022.

Last Day of the Death Sentence Prisoner
As per the Delhi Jail Manual, death row convicts are housed in a dedicated enclosure, typically situated within the prison premises. The custody of these cells, holding the lives in the balance, changes hands daily, with the keys entrusted to the head warder on duty at each shift transition. In the event of an alarm being raised, the head warder is tasked with approaching the cell housing the death row inmate.

The personnel overseeing these convicts are mandated to respond promptly upon hearing the alarm, a precautionary measure aimed at thwarting any desperate attempts by the condemned prisoners to delay their execution through violent means. Further guidelines dictate that the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent of the prison pay a visit to the prisoner sentenced to death just moments before the scheduled execution. Here, the inmate is formally identified, and the ominous 'black' warrant, bearing their name and fate, is read aloud.

In the hours leading up to the execution, and during the solemn event itself, the entire prison complex is placed under lockdown. No other prisoner is permitted to leave their cell for any reason. The convict is prepared for execution by securing their hands behind their back while removing leg irons. They are then led to the execution scaffold, escorted by the Deputy Superintendent, head warder, and a contingent of six warders.

Following the execution, the Superintendent is obligated to promptly dispatch a report of the event to the Inspector General and return the death warrant, now marked with the somber finality of execution, to the court that issued it. Approximately half an hour after the sentence has been carried out; a medical examiner arrives to confirm the passing of the convict, marking the solemn conclusion of a chapter in the complex world of capital punishment.

Facilities to Death Row Prisoners before the Day of their Execution
In India, death sentence prisoners are entitled to certain facilities and rights before the day of their execution. These facilities are designed to ensure humane treatment and uphold their dignity, even in the face of the ultimate penalty. While the specifics may vary based on the state and prison, here are some common facilities and rights available to death sentence prisoners before their execution:
  • Death row inmates have the right to legal representation at all stages of their legal proceedings, including during appeals and clemency petitions. Legal counsel assists them in navigating the legal processes and advocating for their rights.
  • Death row prisoners are generally allowed visitation by family members, legal representatives, and, in some cases, religious or spiritual advisors. Visitation policies may vary depending on the prison's security level and regulations.
  • Prisoners on death row have the right to access medical care, and their health needs should be addressed. This includes physical and mental health assessments and access to necessary medical treatment.
  • Death row inmates are entitled to practice their religion and have access to religious texts and visits from religious or spiritual leaders, subject to security considerations.
  • Prisoners have the right to access legal materials, including case files, court documents, and relevant laws, to assist in their appeals and petitions.
  • Death row prisoners may have limited access to communication, including writing letters to family and legal representatives. Restrictions on communication may vary based on security concerns.
  • In some jurisdictions, prisoners are given the opportunity to request a last meal of their choice and may be allowed to make a final statement before their execution.
  • Recognizing the psychological toll of awaiting execution, some prisons provide mental health counseling or support services to death row inmates.
  • Prison authorities are typically required to notify the inmate of their execution date in advance, allowing them time to prepare mentally and emotionally.
  • The authorities responsible for reviewing clemency petitions submitted by death row inmates are obligated to thoroughly consider these requests and any supporting evidence before making a decision.

It's important to note that the availability and conditions of these facilities may vary based on the state or union territory in India where the death sentence is carried out. Additionally, India has ratified international human rights treaties that emphasize the importance of treating all prisoners, including those on death row, with dignity and respect for their human rights, regardless of their circumstances.

Arguments in favour of Death Sentence
Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, continues to be a contentious issue, with proponents highlighting several perceived benefits associated with its use.
  • A primary argument in favor of capital punishment is its potential to act as a deterrent against violent crime. Advocates assert that the prospect of facing execution can dissuade individuals from committing heinous acts. The severity of the punishment, they contend, serves as a powerful disincentive against murder and other grave offenses.
  • Capital punishment is viewed as a means of providing retribution for the victim's family and society at large. It is seen as a way to hold the offender accountable for the harm inflicted upon the victim and their loved ones. Supporters argue that executing the perpetrator brings a sense of closure to the victim's family and provides a form of societal retribution for the grievous crime committed.
  • Many proponents argue that capital punishment ensures justice for the victim. They believe that the death penalty is an appropriate response to the gravity of murder, representing a just punishment for those who have taken another person's life. In their view, executing the offender is the only way to fully serve justice in such cases.
  • Surprisingly, proponents assert that capital punishment can be a cost-effective form of punishment. They contend that the expenses associated with housing a convicted murderer for life can surpass the costs of execution. While the appeals process for death penalty cases can be lengthy and expensive, proponents argue that these costs are outweighed by the potential deterrent effect of the death penalty.
  • Another benefit cited is the enhancement of public safety. Advocates claim that executing dangerous criminals removes them from society, making it safer. This is particularly emphasized in cases involving individuals who have committed multiple heinous crimes and are deemed unlikely to ever be rehabilitated.

While proponents highlight these perceived benefits, it is essential to acknowledge that the death penalty remains a subject of ongoing debate. Opponents raise valid concerns, including the risk of executing innocent individuals and the potential for racial and socioeconomic biases within the criminal justice system. The question of whether capital punishment is a truly beneficial practice continues to be a complex and divisive issue.

Arguments against Death Sentence
Abolishing the death penalty is a topic steeped in moral, legal, and societal considerations, with a multitude of reasons advocating for its elimination.

First and foremost, the irrevocable nature of execution casts a shadow of irreversible error. The prospect of executing an innocent person looms as a haunting specter, a risk that can never be entirely eradicated. Illustrating this grim reality, the United States has seen over 191 individuals released from death row since 1973 due to evidence of their innocence. Tragically, others have met their end despite lingering doubts regarding their guilt.

Moreover, the oft-touted claim that the death penalty deters crime is a contention undermined by a dearth of credible evidence. Numerous studies have discredited this notion, revealing that capital punishment is no more effective in curtailing criminal activity than life imprisonment.

Further complicating matters, the death penalty is frequently wielded within justice systems marred by glaring inequities. Many instances documented by Amnesty International reveal executions following grossly unfair trials, marred by evidence extracted through torture and characterized by deficient legal representation. Some countries prescribe death sentences as mandatory punishment for specific offenses, thereby depriving judges of the discretion to consider the unique circumstances of both the crime and the defendant.

Another troubling facet of capital punishment is its proclivity for discrimination. The weight of this ultimate penalty disproportionately falls upon those with less privileged socio-economic backgrounds or who belong to marginalized racial, ethnic, or religious communities. These individuals often face limited access to legal representation and encounter systemic disadvantages within the criminal justice system.

Finally, the death penalty is employed as a political tool in certain regions, such as Iran and Sudan. Here, it is wielded as a means of punishing political opponents, casting a shadow over the integrity of justice.

The reasons to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty are multifaceted, touching on issues of justice, human rights, and the fundamental dignity of all individuals.

Court Judgments on Death Row Prisoners
India is among the 78 countries that still have the death penalty. It's used sparingly, reserved for what's considered the "rarest of rare cases" or "special reasons." However, what exactly qualifies as such cases hasn't been clearly defined by either the Legislature or the Supreme Court.

In 1978, in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration & Ors, the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners sentenced to death must be treated just like the other prisoners until their sentence can be carried out.

The Supreme Court has stated that hanging by the neck as a method of execution could be declared unconstitutional if there is scientific evidence supporting a less painful and more humane alternative. On March 22, 2023, adjudicating on a petition, the court urged the Union government to begin a discussion on this matter and gather information about executions conducted over the past four decades.

In 1980, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of capital punishment in the Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab case, with the condition that it should only be applied in the "rarest of the rare" cases.

In the case of Deena v. Union of India, a challenge was brought against the constitutional validity of Section 354(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The contention was that the prescribed method of execution, hanging, was considered barbarous, inhuman, and degrading, thus violating Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. However, the court ruled that Section 354(5) of the CrPC, which mandated hanging as the mode of execution, was deemed a fair, just, and reasonable procedure within the ambit of Article 21, affirming its constitutional validity.

In the case of Sher Singh v. State of Punjab, Chief Justice Chandrachud, speaking for a panel of three Supreme Court judges, affirmed that the death sentence is constitutionally valid and permissible under the framework established in the Bachan Singh case. This declaration was established as the prevailing law of the land.

Likewise, in the case of Triveniben v. State of Gujarat, the Supreme Court emphatically asserted that the Indian Constitution does not prohibit the imposition of the death penalty.

However, a significant turning point occurred in the case of Mithu v. State of Punjab, where Section 303 of the CrPC was struck down as it violated Articles 21 and 14 of the Indian Constitution. This section mandated capital punishment as the only punishment for the offense, depriving the judiciary of the discretion to consider alternative penalties, resulting in an unjust and unreasonable procedure that infringed upon an individual's right to life.

In the landmark case of Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, a unanimous decision by a five-judge Supreme Court bench reaffirmed the constitutional validity of the death penalty in India. The challenge to the death sentence was based on the argument that it violated Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution due to the absence of a specific procedure for its imposition. The Court, however, held that the choice of the death penalty is made in accordance with the procedure established by law. It emphasized that the judge's decision to award capital punishment or life imprisonment is based on a careful evaluation of the circumstances, facts, and the nature of the crime presented during the trial, ensuring a just and fair process.

In contrast, the case of Rajendra Prasad v. State of UP saw Justice Krishna Iyer strongly asserting that the death penalty contravened Articles 14, 19, and 21. He argued that for the imposition of the death penalty, two essential conditions must be met: firstly, there must be a specific reason recorded for choosing the death penalty, and secondly, it should only be imposed in truly exceptional circumstances. This perspective was later challenged in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, where a five-judge Supreme Court bench, with a majority of 4 to 1 (Justice Bhagwati dissenting), overturned the earlier decision in Rajendra Prasad.

The Court opined that the death penalty, as an alternative punishment for murder, was not unreasonable and did not violate Articles 14, 19, and 21. It introduced the principle of awarding the death penalty only in the 'rarest of rare cases,' setting forth a new criterion. However, Justice Bhagwati, in his dissenting opinion, contended that the death penalty was not only unconstitutional due to violations of Articles 14 and 21 but also undesirable from multiple perspectives.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court in Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab outlined the criteria for when the death sentence should be imposed. Justice Thakkar, representing the Court, identified five categories of cases as 'rarest of rare,' justifying the imposition of the death penalty.

These categories included the brutal manner of the murder, a motive demonstrating depravity, socially abhorrent crimes, crimes of significant magnitude, and the personality of the victim. This decision provided a framework for evaluating the appropriateness of the death penalty based on the specifics of each case, emphasizing the gravity and rareness of the circumstances that warrant such a severe punishment.

Opinions on the death penalty vary widely among individuals and societies. The death penalty is a complex and contentious issue with arguments both in favor of its retention and for its abolition. Supporters of the death penalty often argue that it serves as a deterrent to serious crimes, provides closure to victims' families, and ensures that the most dangerous criminals do not have the opportunity to harm others.

On the other hand, opponents argue that the death penalty is morally wrong, that it carries the risk of executing innocent people, and that it does not necessarily deter crime more effectively than other forms of punishment. Public opinion and government policies regarding the death penalty differ from one country to another and even within regions and states.

Many countries have abolished the death penalty, while others still practice it. Ultimately, the issue of the death penalty is a matter of ethics, justice, and human rights, and opinions on it reflect a wide range of perspectives.


Written By: Md. Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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