Capital Punishment and its Constitutionality

Death Penalty which is also commonly known to many as Capital Punishment is a form of penalty imposed on crimes of great severity in nature. This topic has been of great contradiction not only in India but several other developed nations as well. In India, the motive behind providing a death penalty comprises of two elements, they are, (i) the offender should suffer from the pain injury they have caused to the victim, (ii) the motive is to discourage others from committing such wrong doings by sanctioning a severe punishment. This article will talk in brief about Capital Punishment and the constitutional validity of the same.

To actually know about Capital Punishment, we will first have to answer the question, why is Capital Punishment imposed by a court. The following are the reasons why a capital punishment may be imposed on any Individual-

  • If the murder has been committed after peculiar planning and involves extreme brutality.
  • If the murder involves exceptional depravity or murder has been committed of a person on public duty.
  • Capital Punishment must not be sanctioned in every case, it should be sanctioned on the basis of the culpability of the crime.
  • This punishment should only be sanctioned when life imprisonment falls short of the crime performed.
  • Both the aggravating and mitigating factors should be considered and the balance between them must be maintained.

Taking into account the scope of this doctrine, the supreme court held that the purpose of this doctrine is not to be insensitive, but to actually disapprove the crime on part of the society. If this doctrine is abolished a wave of chaos and risk could flow in the society.

Hence, this doctrine which is sanctioned only on the rarest of rarest cases in India, is followed through only when a crime so heinous in nature is committed that any fundamental rights of the offender overpower it. This punishment also plays a major role as setting out an example, as no one will ever indulge in performing such a crime because of the fear.

This brings us to the next topic and by far the biggest one, The CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. As India is a nation which has neither completely abolished the practise of Capital Punishment, nor has it created any specific laws defining its legality and validity. Since the establishment of Indian Constitution, a number of challenges to the constitutionality of the death sentence have arisen through Supreme Court Petitions.

According to law there are seven crimes under which a person can be ordered a death sentence. These include-

  • Murder
  • Dacoity accompanied with murder
  • Abetment of suicide of a minor or insane or intoxicated person

The first challenge to a capital punishment came in 1973, in Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh. In the case, it was claimed that under the Article 14,19 and 21, the judges possessed arbitrary power to impose the death penalty. This annihilated all the fundamental freedoms under Article 19, and there was no fair sentencing procedure in regard to the death penalty. The Bench in this regard held that the capital punishment did not violate any fundamental rights or freedoms and indeed it was constitutional.

The next major breakthrough in capital penalty law was Maneka Gandhi versus Union of India, which established two important safeguards: first, that all fundamental rights are not mutually exclusive. A statute has to pass the test of Articles 14, 19, and 21 taken together in order to be pronounced constitutional.

Furthermore, any procedure established under Article 21 must be fair, just, and reasonable, and cannot be whimsical, oppressive, or arbitrary, according to this ruling. Bachchan Singh versus State of Punjab, a landmark challenge against capital punishment in 1980, was heard under this paradigm by a five-judge bench.

In India, there have been a variety of viewpoints on the death penalty, with some advocating for its continued use and others advocating for its abolition

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