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Capital Punishment in Indian Law: Provisions and Legal Framework

In Indian law, the execution of a person as a punishment for a serious crime typically the most heinous offences like murder or acts of terrorism is usually accepted and characterized as capital punishment, often known as the death penalty

The Indian Supreme Court has not expressly ruled that the death penalty is morally wrong. The Supreme Court has affirmed the legality of the death penalty in India, but discussions over its moral and ethical ramifications are still going on.

Although the imposition of the penalty does not always result in execution because it might be overturned on appeal, the terms "death penalty" and "capital punishment" are often used interchangeably.

As per the IPC and other specific statutes, the death penalty, often known as capital punishment, may be granted for a number of particularly serious offences in India.

The following offences are among those for which the death penalty may be applied:

  • Murder: It is crucial to remember that not all murders end up with the death penalty. Before applying capital punishment, the Supreme Court-established "rarest of the rare" doctrine must be followed.
  • Terrorism-Related Offences: Under UAPA and the POTA, the death penalty can be granted for acts of terrorism that result in death.
  • Warfare Against the State: The death penalty may be imposed for acts of war against the Indian government.
  • Certain Rape Cases: On occasion, the death sentence may be imposed for extremely brutal rapes that leave their victims dead. The IPC was amended in 2013 (after the Nirbhaya case), extending the use of the death penalty in rape cases even though it is not frequently applied.

Historical Background
The 1973 case of Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh was significant in the development of the death penalty in India. The death penalty's constitutionality was affirmed, and it was determined that it did not violate the provisions of the Indian Constitution that protect a person.

The Constitution has various provisions that, with their help, protect a person from harm. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution ensures the fundamental right to life and liberty for all people. It also states that no one may be deprived of their personal freedom or their life until doing so in accordance with legal procedure.

The question that whether death penalty violate Article 21 of the Indian Constitution came into existence after a murder conviction in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The appellant challenged the constitutionality of capital punishment on the grounds that it is violative and infringes his rights, given under Article 21 of the Constitution, which protects the right to life and personal liberty. The Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty, or capital punishment, is only applied to the "rarest of rare" cases and that it does not violate Article 21's provisions or otherwise violates a person's rights.

The death penalty is opposed on the grounds that it is not a reformative punishment, whereas the primary objective of punishments handed out in accordance with criminal law is to reform and rehabilitate a person in order to benefit and protect society.

In the historical case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980), the Supreme Court defined what the "rarest of rare" cases are in the context of the death penalty. And overruled the decision of Rajendra Prasad by a majority of 4 to 1 (Bhagwati J. dissenting) of the bench of the Supreme Court. This case held that the death penalty can only be imposed if the following conditions are met:
  • Capital punishment should not be given in cases other than those in which the guilt is extreme and the cases are very grave.
  • Prior to the execution of the convict by giving him the death penalty, the court (the judge) should consider both the circumstances of the crime and that of the convict.
  • The bench stated, "Life imprisonment is the rule, whereas a death sentence is the exception."
  • In light of the circumstances of the case, we can conclude that the death sentence ought to be used solely in situations where a life sentence would appear insufficient.
  • A balance sheet containing aggravating and mitigating conditions must be prepared before the accused is given the death penalty. The sheet must give the mitigating circumstances full weight and establish a fair balance between the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

The question of discontinuing the death penalty was brought up in the Legislative Assembly in 1931 when Shri Gaya Prasad Singh attempted to present a bill to do so for crimes covered by the Indian Penal Code. The bill was introduced on January 27, 1931, and a motion to circulate it was made on February 17, 1931. Following Sir James Crerar's response, who was the then-home minister, the motion was rejected.

The Indian Penal Code provides for punishments in six different forms:

I.e., Punishments Mentioned Under Section 53 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Death Punishment
  • Imprisonment for life
  • Forfeiture of Property
  • Fine Under IPC
  • Solitary Confinement

Provisions in Relation To Capital Punishment

Section 367(5) CRPC, 1898: When a court imposes another punishment for an offence for which the death penalty is a possible punishment under the CRPC, the law compels the court to note the reasons in its judgement as to why the death sentence was not imposed on the offender.

Furthermore, Section 367(5) of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1898 was repealed by Parliament in 1955. As a result, judges no longer had to explain in judgements why the death sentence was not put forth, despite it being one of the options for a prescribed punishment.

After the re-enactment of the Criminal Procedure Code in 1973, changes to Section 354(3) made sure that the court must justify the punishment in cases where a death sentence, life sentence, or term of years was imposed as punishment, and in cases where a death sentence was imposed, a special reason must be provided by the courts.

The following groups of people are excluded from the death penalty in India as per the provisions under the Indian Legal system:
  • Juveniles, those under the age of 18, are excluded from the death penalty.
  • Pregnant Women: According to the CRPC, pregnant women cannot be put to death.
  • Mentally Ill individuals

In conclusion, the death sentence, also known as the death penalty, is a complicated and controversial topic in the Indian legal system. While Indian law does permit the application of the death penalty under certain cases, several rules and regulations must be followed as per the legal provisions in order to order the death penalty, in addition to the ongoing discussions over the moral and ethical impact of the death penalty.

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