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'Rape And Murder' Tops The List Of Cases Where Death Penalty Was Awarded In India : Project39 (NLU-D) Report

AKSHITA SAXENA
18 Jan 2020 11:59 AM GMT

"Murder involving sexual offences comprised the majority of death sentences imposed by sessions court, and confirmations of death sentences by the High Court and Supreme Court. The proportion of death sentences for sexual offences by sessions courts has been steadily increasing since 2016"

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As per the "Death Penalty Report in India: Annual Statistics" published by Project 39A of the National Law University, Delhi, 2019 was a significant year in terms of legal developments on capital punishment in India.

During the last year, the Supreme Court listed and heard the maximum number of capital cases (27) since 2001, primarily during the tenure of Former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. This was perhaps due to priority in listings given to capital cases by Justice Gogoi.

A large majority of these were commutations and there were six cases that resulted in confirmation of sentence. A commonly invoked factor while commuting death sentences in 2019 was 'residual doubt' arising out of circumstantial evidence which formed the basis of the conviction.

The line of reasoning in these cases was that though there was sufficient corroboration to convict on the basis of circumstantial evidence, it was not sufficient to impose a death sentence. Thus, a relatively lenient view as regards punishment had to be taken for want of better evidence. This argument was used in 3 cases to commute the death sentence for 3 persons.

This was also the year of highest number of confirmations by the high courts in four years (65.38% or 17 out of 26). Contrarily, the number of death sentences handed down by Trial courts slumped this year, being the lowest in last four years.

As of December 31, 378 prisoners are on death row, the highest being in Uttar Pradesh (54), followed by Maharashtra (45) and Madhya Pradesh (34). Notably, the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim have not imposed death sentence at all, in the past four years.

It is pertinent to note that the issue of sexual violence against women and children is now at the heart of the debate on capital punishment in India. Though fewer death penalties have been handed down, the proportion of cases of murder involving sexual offences is the highest since 2016. Courts gave death penalty for murder involving sexual offences in 18% (27 out of 150) of the cases in 2016. In 2019, this has increased to highest in four years at 52.94% (54 out of 102 sentences).

Further, despite the drop in the total number of death sentences imposed by sessions courts, the proportion of sexual offences in these cases increased from 41.35% (67 out of 162) in 2018 to 52.94% in 2019 (54 out of 102 sentences).

The year 2019 was also significant due to introduction of stringent mandatory minimum punishments and the death penalty for penetrative sexual assault on children, by way of an amendment to the POCSO Act. While this amendment does not have retrospective application, the Supreme Court relied on the public policy reflected through this legislative trend to confirm death sentence in two cases, not falling within its ambit.

India also abstained from voting on the UN resolution to establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of goods used for "capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." in this regard, First Secretary in India's Permanent Mission to the UN, Paulomi Tripathi, said that it is unacceptable to place death penalty at par with torture, adding that the death penalty in India is awarded after following the due process of law.

Written by: Gale Andrew and Preeti Pratishruti Dash

Data And Research Strategy: Varsha Sharma and Pritam Raman Giriya

Research Assistance: Hardik Baid Supriya Shekher

Click Here to access the full Report

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