Death Sentence-Life Imprisonment is the Rule, Death Sentence is an Exception- Supreme Court

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January 28, 2019

Death Sentence- In this recent case, the Supreme Court has reiterated that life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an exception for persons convicted of murder. Taking a life through law’s instrumentality can be done only in the rarest of rare cases when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed.

Case name: Raju Jagdish Paswan v. The State of Maharashtra

In the present case, the seminal issue that fell for consideration before the Three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court was whether the death penalty imposed on the Appellant was guilty of committing brutal sexual on the hapless victim of nine years and the grotesque murder of the girl.

The Trial Court in the case holding that the Appellant did not deserve any leniency in view of the heinous crime committed by him, sentenced him to be hanged by neck till his death for an offence under Section 302 IPC. The Trial Court’s order was later affirmed by the High Court.

The Appellant has assailed the High Court’s sentence on the ground that the entire case rests on circumstantial evidence and the circumstances proved do not warrant death penalty.

Supreme Court

In order to decide the issue at hand, the Apex Court made reference to plethora of judgments on a similar issue and concluded that though the Appellant committed a heinous crime, he did not deserve death penalty in the case. The observations made by the Court in the case are as under:

Factors considered while passing death sentence- In view of the precedents, the Court opined that the age of the accused, possibility of reformation and rehabilitation of the accused, probability that the accused would not indulge in a criminal act in future, the extreme mental or emotional disturbance due to which the offence was committed, the duress or domination of another person under which the accused committed the offence and the mental unsoundness or incapacity are mitigating circumstances which have to be considered before imposing a sentence of death under Section 302 IPC.

While referring to the celebrated Bachan Singh’s case the Court was of the view that life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an exception for persons convicted of murder. Taking a life through law’s instrumentality can be done only in the rarest of rare cases when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed.

In view of the aforesaid circumstances, the Apex Court in the instant case held that there is no doubt that the murder involved and manner of commission of the  crime is extremely brutal, however in view of the following mitigating circumstances, the Appellant did not deserve death sentence:

  1. a) On a thorough examination of the offence, we are unable to accept the prosecution version that the murder was committed in a pre-planned manner.
  2. b) The Appellant was a young man aged 22 years at the time of commission of the offence.
  3. c) There is no evidence produced by the prosecution that the Appellant has the propensity of committing further crimes, causing a continuing threat to the society.
  4. d) The State did not bring on record any evidence to show that the Appellant cannot be reformed and rehabilitated.

In view of the aforesaid observations, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court’s order and considering the gravity of the offence and the manner in which it was done, held that the Appellant deserved to be incarcerated for a period of 30 years.

The entire case can be accessed here.