For crimes including murder, terrorism-related offences that result in death, treason, and some rape cases that result in the victim’s death, India has the option of imposing the death penalty. The trial court often decides whether to execute a person, but it is appealable to higher courts, such as the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India. Guidelines have been created by the Indian Supreme Court to identify the ‘rarest of rare’ situations in which the death sentence may be appropriate. It’s crucial to remember that these crimes do not always carry the death penalty, and the courts have the authority to decide whether to do so. There are still ongoing conversations over the death penalty in India. Some make the case for its repeal, pointing to issues with human rights, the potential for erroneous convictions, and the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent. On the other side, those who support the death sentence contend that it is required for justice in some terrible crimes and acts as a deterrent.

Capital punishment can be understood as deterrent theory of punishment. The aim behind capital punishment is to prevent the occurrence of a similar crime and deter other individuals from indulging in the same. It is an example before the society of the consequences of committing heinous crimes. Recently. There have been debates from the humanitarian perspective of death penalty. There is a legal death penalty in over 92 nations. Eight of these only impose the death sentence for the most egregious offences, such as war crimes. As per data by Amnesty International, China is the country with the highest number of death penalties awarded. In India, according to report of 2019, 104 death penalties were awarded.


When the Supreme Court upholds the death penalty after an appeal, the convict or his/her relative can submit mercy petition to the President of India under article 72. In India, only the President has the pardoning power exercised under article 72 to pardon a death sentence. The philosophy underlying the pardon power is that ‘every civilized country recognizes and provides for the pardoning power as an act of grace and humanity in course of law’. The pardoning power is founded on the consideration of public good and is to be exercised on the grounds of public welfare, which is the legitimate objective of all punishments. The grounds, such as the convict being the only provider for the family, the convict’s physical condition, his age, or even the severity of the law or the court’s accidental error, may be taken into account when deciding whether to grant the mercy petition.

The other pardoning powers of the President under Article 72 includes:

  1. Pardon:

Absolute acquittal of a person and conduct life as a normal citizen. It removes both the sentence and conviction and completely absolves the convict from all sentences, punishments and disqualifications.

  1. Commutation:

Denotes the substitution of one form of punishment for a lighter form. A death sentence may be commuted to rigorous imprisonment, which in turn may be commuted to simple imprisonment.

  1. Remission:

Reduces the period of sentence without changing its character. A sentence of rigorous imprisonment for two years may be remitted to rigorous imprisonment for one year.

  1. Respite:

Denotes awarding a lesser sentence in place of one originally awarded due to some special fact, such as the physical disability of a convict or the pregnancy of a woman offender.


The application of the death penalty within a legal system is subject to many legal theories, interpretations, and arguments, which are referred to as death penalty jurisprudence. It covers a range of topics, such as constitutional issues, statutory interpretation, judicial review, global human rights norms, and shifting societal viewpoints.

Some important legal principles that are relevant to the death penalty:

Constitutional Considerations:

The death penalty is covered by the constitutions of several nations. Courts interpret these clauses to decide whether the death penalty is lawful and to set standards for how it should be applied. The right to life, harsh and unusual punishment, due process, and equal protection under the law are among topics that constitutional law can address.

Statutory Interpretation:

Using statutory interpretation, courts interpret pertinent laws to ascertain the parameters, conditions, and applicability of the death penalty. Legislative intent, legal ambiguity, and any required or discretionary wording included can all be taken into account when interpreting a statute.

Judicial Review:

Judicial review describes the procedure through which courts assess the constitutionality and validity of capital punishment laws as well as the fairness and accuracy of particular instances. Courts have the authority to assess the trial procedures, the quality of the defence counsel, the validity of the evidence, and the sentencing guidelines.

International Human Rights Standards:

Several nations have ratified treaties and conventions addressing the death sentence under the umbrella of international human rights. When determining whether the death penalty is consistent with human rights values, such as the right to life, the proscription of torture and cruel treatment, and the right to a fair trial, courts may take these criteria into account.

Evolving Societal Perspectives:

Death sentence jurisprudence also reflects shifting society attitudes and beliefs. Courts may take into account these elements as society’s views on punishment, human rights, and the effectiveness of the death penalty change while construing and applying the legislation.

It’s vital to keep in mind that different legal frameworks, jurisdictions, and cultural situations may have distinct specific features of death penalty jurisprudence. The method used by courts may be influenced by the individual laws, constitutional clauses, and legal customs of a particular nation.


  1. Bachan Singh v/s State of Punjab (1980) (1982) 3 SCC 24, 1983 1 SCR 145):

The “rarest of rare” doctrine for determining when the death penalty may be applied was established by this seminal judgement. According to the Supreme Court of India, the death penalty should only be applied when other penalties are demonstrably insufficient and the nature of the crime shocks society as a whole.

  1. Macchi Singh And Others v/s State Of Punjab (1983 AIR 957, 1983 SCR (3) 413):

The Supreme Court further clarified the guidelines established in Bachan Singh in this case. When weighing aggravating and mitigating factors to determine whether a given instance falls into the category of the “rarest of rare” that justifies the death penalty, the court developed a framework.

  1. Rajendra Prasad v/s State of Uttar Pradesh (1979 AIR 916, 1979 SCR (3) 78):

The topic of the death penalty’s execution being postponed was discussed in this case. The death penalty may become inhumane and degrading if it is carried out slowly, according to the Supreme Court, infringing the right to life protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

  1. Shatrughan Chauhan & Anr v/s Union Of India & Ors. (Writ Petition (Criminal) no. 55 of 2013):

In this case, the Supreme Court considered whether Section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) mandated the imposition of the death penalty. The mandatory death sentence was abolished by the court when it was determined that it violated both the right to a fair trial and the right to life.


In several nations, there has been discussion about the employment of more contemporary and ostensibly merciful execution techniques like lethal injection. While opponents may cite issues regarding the possibility of botched executions, medical involvement, or the general ethics of state-sanctioned death, proponents contend that these procedures may be less painful and more dignified than hanging.

Recently, Supreme Court bench headed by the CJI, considered arguments regarding other alternative of the mode of execution was put forth. Hang till death is the practice prevalent in India. The Court held that capital punishment by hanging is scientifically the least painful and swift method compared to the mode of lethal injections. The Centre in this case held that death by hanging is the only viable option to execute a death warrant, but had also sough time to examine methods followed in other countries. Conversely, shots to the heart are anticipated to rapidly burst it, knock the inmate out of consciousness, and force him or her to bleed to death. Sonia Sotomayor, a Supreme Court justice, stated in a 2017 ruling that “death by shooting may also be comparatively painless in addition to being almost instantaneous.” The AP cited this reasoning. While a growing body of research indicates that electrocution and fatal injection are both brutal methods of execution, empirical evidence points out that hanging need not result in an early or painful death. In addition to not being cruel or inhuman, the Union administration argues that hanging should be kept since it results in the fewest amount of botched executions.









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