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Death Penalty | Mercy Petition

  • Context (IE): The President has rejected the mercy petition of a Lashkar-e-Taiba member who was sentenced to death for his role in the December 2000 Red Fort attack, which killed three Army personnel.
  • Earlier, SC dismissed the review petition and noted that there were no mitigating circumstances in his favour and that the attack posed a direct threat to the country’s unity, integrity, and sovereignty.
  • SC has previously commuted death sentences in cases of inordinate delays in deciding mercy petitions.
  • If a convict is awarded a death sentence, he has three options: a review petition, a curative petition before the Supreme Court, and, finally, a mercy petition before the President.
  • Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India (2014): SC commuted the death sentences of 15 convicts due to the inordinate delay in deciding their mercy petitions, terming it a violation of their fundamental rights.

Death Penalty in India

  • The death penalty (capital punishment) is the highest form of punishment awarded for the most heinous crimes. In India, it is awarded in the “rarest of rare” cases, as per the SC guidelines.

Legal Aspects

  • The IPC prescribes the death penalty for several offences, including:
    • Section 121: Waging war against the Government of India; Section 132: Abetment of mutiny.
    • Section 194: Perjury resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person.
    • Section 302: Murder; Section 305: Abetment of the suicide of a minor or an insane person.
    • Section 307 (2): Attempted murder by a life convict; Section 364A: Kidnapping for ransom.
    • Section 376A: Rape causing death or leaving the woman in a vegetative state.
    • Section 376E: Certain repeat offenders in the context of rape; Section 396: Dacoity with murder.
  • Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides the procedural framework for awarding the death penalty.
    • Section 354(3): Requires a judge to provide special reasons for awarding the death sentence.
    • Section 366: Mandates the confirmation of the death sentence by the High Court.
    • Section 368: Specifies the procedure for executing the death sentence.
  • The important legislation which prescribes the death penalty is:
    • The Arms Act, 1959
    • The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985
    • The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
    • The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, etc.

Supreme Court Judgements

Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, 1980
  • SC upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty but established important guidelines.
  • The court emphasised that the death penalty should only be awarded in the “rarest of rare cases” when all alternative options are exhausted and mitigating circumstances have been considered.
Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab, 1983
  • SC laid down five categories of cases where the death penalty could be awarded:
  • (a) manner of commission of murder, (b) motive for the crime, (c) anti-social or socially abhorrent nature of the crime, (d) magnitude of the crime, and (e) personality of the victim.
  • The Law Commission of India (262nd Report)), recommended that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes other than terrorism-related offences and waging war.

Pardoning Power of the President and the Governor

  • According to Article 72 of the Indian Constitution, the President can grant pardons, reprieves, respites, or remissions of punishment, or suspend, remit, or commute sentences in cases where:
    • The punishment or sentence is for an offence against a Union Law.
    • The punishment or sentence is by a court-martial (military court).
    • The sentence is a death sentence.
  • Article 161 grants state Governors the power to pardon, reprieve, respite, remit, or commute sentences for offences against state law. The Governor does not have the power to pardon sentences by court-martial or in cases where the death penalty is given.
  • The scope of the President’s pardoning power is broader than the governor’s pardoning power.

Learn in detail about the Pardoning Powers of the President.

Review Petition

  • Article 137 of the Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to review its judgments or orders.
  • It is a legal mechanism available to a litigant who is not satisfied with a judgement made by the court.
  • Under the Civil Procedure Code and SC Rules, any aggrieved person, not just parties to the case, can seek a review, and the petition must be filed within 30 days of the judgment or order.
  • The court exercises its discretion to allow a review petition only when it shows valid grounds.
  • Grounds for Seeking a Review:
    • The Supreme Court has laid down three grounds for seeking a review:
      • Discovery of new and important matter or evidence
      • Mistake or error apparent on the face of the record
      • Any other sufficient reason analogous to the other two grounds
    • The mere possibility of two views on the subject cannot be a ground for review.
  • The notable instances of it include the Sabarimala case, the Rafale deal, and the SC/ST Atrocities Act.
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