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Supreme Court Initiative on Capital Punishment


Supreme Court Initiative: Significance of the Supreme Court decision

  • Opportunity for convict: Giving time for sentencing will give opportunity to the convict to produce evidence in their favour, which may allow them to avoid death sentence.
  • Reduce frequency of capital punishment: A verdict by the constitutional bench in favour of separate verdict day may lead to the judicial system making death sentences even rarer.


Supreme Court Initiative: Existing Practice

  • Usually, a separate hearing on sentencing is practiced in all trials, but most judges do not adjourn the case to a future date.
  • If an accused is pronounced ‘guilty’, they ask counsel on both sides to argue on sentencing.
  • Disadvantage of the practice: The ‘same-day’ sentencing is inadequate and violates natural justice as convicts have no opportunity to gather mitigating factors.
  • Throughout the trial, the State is given an opportunity to present evidence against the accused to make a case for conviction. The whole process is tilted against the accused.


Supreme Court Initiative: Laws on Sentencing of Convicts

  • Normal offence: The Section 235 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) says that in case of conviction, the judge shall hear the accused on the question of sentence and then pass sentence.
  • Death or life imprisonment offence: Section 354(3) says that when an offence is punishable with death or life imprisonment, the judgment must give the reasons for the sentence awarded. If the sentence is death, “special reasons” must be given for the sentence.
  • In Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab (1980), the Supreme Court said that the death penalty can be awarded only in the ‘rarest of rare cases’.
  • Besides the gravity of the crime, the circumstances of the accused will also have to be examined to determine the suitability of the death penalty in the given case.


Supreme Court Initiative: Opinion of Courts on Sentencing Process

  • Separate hearing: The Supreme Court in the Bachan Singh case said that the deficiency in sentencing policy was the lack of proper information about the characteristics and background of the offender.
  • It also agreed with the 48th Law Commission report that had asked for gathering evidence related to the circumstances before sentencing.
  • Trial court procedure: The Supreme Court said that trial courts should not confine its decisions merely to the circumstances connected with the crime. It must give due consideration to the circumstances of the criminal.
  • The Supreme Court, through various judgments, has advocated that the sentencing hearing be done separately at a future date after conviction.
  • Contradiction: However, the Courts in several judgments have upheld the practice of ‘same-day’ sentencing. Such a practice does not deteriorate the quality of the sentence.


Supreme Court Initiative: Way forward

  • Guidelines for sentencing: The constitutional bench will have to lay down comprehensive guidelines for arriving at sentencing. This will bring uniformity.
  • Study of the accused: The court may allow opinion by psychologists and behavioral experts on the accused before sentencing.
  • Knowing the mental health, understanding likelihood of traumatic past experiences and other social and cultural factors may be mandated to be part of the sentencing process.
  • Balanced trial: The trial will be better balanced between the convict and the state. The detailed understanding of the convict will help judges make better decisions while sentencing.


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