Death Penalty

August 3, 2023

Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab[ AIR 1980 SC 898]

Five Judge Bench: Justice Y.C. Chandrachud, Justice A. Gupta, Justice N. Untwalia, Justice P.N Bhagwati, and Justice R. Sarkaria.
Judgment: May 9, 1980

Brief Facts.
Bachan Singh was convicted for the murder of two persons and sentenced to death by the Sessions Court, which was upheld by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of India.

Key Points of the Judgment:
Constitutional Validity of Death Penalty:
The primary issue before the Supreme Court was the constitutional validity of the death penalty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The court examined whether the imposition of the death penalty violates the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Deterrence vs. Retribution:
The court discussed the conflicting theories of deterrence and retribution concerning the purpose of the death penalty. It recognized that while some view the death penalty as a deterrent, others see it as a retributive punishment for the most heinous crimes.

Guiding Principles for Imposing Death Penalty:
The court laid down the “rarest of the rare” doctrine, stating that the death penalty should only be imposed in the rarest of rare cases, where the crime is exceptionally brutal and the alternative punishment of life imprisonment is inadequate.

Aggravating and Mitigating Circumstances:
The court established the importance of considering aggravating and mitigating circumstances while sentencing in death penalty cases. Aggravating factors could include the brutality of the crime, while mitigating factors could include the accused’s age, background, and lack of prior criminal record.

Discretion of Courts:
The court emphasized that the sentencing authority should exercise its discretion judiciously while deciding between the death penalty and life imprisonment.

Review of Death Sentence:
The court clarified that all death sentences should be subject to review by the High Court and the Supreme Court to ensure that the sentence is not imposed arbitrarily.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the death penalty while emphasizing the need for extreme caution and judiciousness in its imposition. The “rarest of the rare” doctrine continues to be the guiding principle for courts in India when deciding on death penalty cases. The judgment has had a significant impact on the sentencing process in capital punishment cases, focusing on a balance between justice and the protection of fundamental rights.

Some Facts: According to a report, currently, there are around 488 prisoners on death row in India till June 2022.

Question: What was name of the last case which imposed death penalty and when?
Answer : Mukesh & Anr v. State for NCT Of Delhi & Ors. (Nirbhaya Case). The most recent executions in India took place in March 2020, when four of the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder perpetrators were executed at the Tihar Jail in Delhi.

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