Approach to death penalty: Why Supreme Court has decided to settle differences among judgments

Source– The post is based on the article “Approach to death penalty: Why Supreme Court has decided to settle differences among judgments” published in The Indian Express on 22th September 2022.

Syllabus: GS2- Fundamental rights provided by Indian constitution

Relevance– Capital Punishment

News– The article explains conflicting judgements about sentencing hearing of death penalty. It also explains the difference of opinion on whether after conviction for capital punishment there should be separate hearing on issue of sentence.

What are the different legal positions?

Section 235 of CrPC– It requires a judge to hear the accused after conviction on the question of sentence, and then pass the sentence.

Bachhan Singh case– Capital punishment will be awarded in the “rarest of the rare” cases. Court also stressed that a separate sentencing hearing would be held for awarding the death sentence.

Mithu vs State of Punjab– Supreme Court reiterated its earlier position on separate sentence hearing.

What are the different rulings on when the separate hearing should take place?

Recent three-judge decisions have ruled that same-day sentencing in capital offences violates the principles of natural justice.

A 2020 study by National Law University, Delhi found that in 40% of cases in surveyed states, sentencing hearings took place on the same day.

Dattaraya v State of Maharashtra (2020)– Supreme Court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment on the grounds that an adequate sentencing hearing was not held. Court observed that Section 235(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure enables the accused to make an effective representation against the death sentence, by placing mitigating circumstances before the Court. But it has not been done.

What is an adequate sentencing hearing?

It is meaningful, real and effective hearing for the accused before awarding the death sentence.

Judiciary is required to consider not just factors that necessitate awarding the highest sentence, but also the mitigating circumstances.

What are some facts related to mitigating circumstances?

In ‘Manoj & others v. State of Madhya Pradesh’, the Supreme Court addressed the lack of a legal framework or institutional capacity to handle death penalty sentencing. It acknowledged the arbitrariness and subjective patterns in awarding the death sentence.

Death penalty sentence is largely driven by the crime in question and not the circumstances of the accused. For example, the Supreme Court’s 1983 ruling in ‘Machhi Singh And Others vs

The State of Punjab’ introduced “collective conscience” into the capital sentencing framework and laid down five categories.

For further reading-

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