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Niyalya se

Death sentences by lower courts hit 20-yr high in 2018

February 07, 2019 05:24 AM

courtesy  TOI FEB 7

Death sentences by lower courts hit 20-yr high in 2018
While Trial Courts Appear Eager To Hand Down Capital Punishment, Appellate Courts Are Increasingly Sceptical
TIMES NEWS NETWORK

The death penalty is often demanded in the aftermath of crimes that jolt the public, like the Kathua and Unnao rape cases last year. The prime minister himself claimed in his Independence Day speech that the speed at which capital punishment is awarded to rapists had shot up.

Data shows that lower courts have indeed been liberal with capital punishment. In 2018, trial courts gave 162 death sentences — the highest in nearly two decades, according to ‘The Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics 2018’, which has been released by Project 39A at National Law University, Delhi. The Supreme Court, though, commuted 11 of the 12 death sentence cases before it, signalling concern with the lower courts’ administration of the penalty.


Of the states, Madhya Pradesh handed out the most death sentences at 22, up from 6 in 2017. The dramatic bump is due to the 2018 amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which introduced death penalty for child rape. The state also has a points system to reward prosecutors who enable quick convictions.

By law, courts are meant to consider aspects beyond the nature of the crime while imposing the death penalty. A person’s social and economic circumstances, past history, age, time spent in prison and the likelihood of reformation are factors integral to sentencing, as outlined by Supreme Court. But, in fact, “all levels of the judiciary have struggled to apply these principles in a uniform manner,” says Maitreyi Misra of the Centre on the Death Penalty, National Law University, Delhi.

The Death Penalty India Report, 2016, found that between 2000 and 2015, less than 5% of death sentences were eventually upheld by the SC.

In 2018, high courts commuted 55 death sentences, of which 24 were cases involving sexual offences. Interestingly, out of the nine death sentences imposed by trial courts under the 2018 law, six were commuted by the respective high courts. SC commuted 11 death sentences, and Justice Kurian Joseph wrote a dissenting opinion calling for the abolition of the punishment.

But even the Supreme Court’s record is inconsistent, as laid out in the report, ‘Lethal Lottery: The Death Penalty in India’, which analyses 50 years of jurisprudence on the issue.

Clearly, the judiciary is torn on the issue — while trial courts are eager to impose the sentence, appellate courts are increasingly sceptical. “This incoherence has been particularly glaring this year,” says Ruchi Chaudhury, an associate at the Centre on the Death Penalty. Clearly, the legislature’s faith in the effectiveness of the death penalty is at odds with the realities of the criminal justice system

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