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Death Sentence

Death Sentence:

The Supreme Court on September 19 referred to a larger Bench issues relating to procedural norms for imposing the death sentence.

  • The intervention is seen as a major step in plugging gaps in the way in which trial courts award the death sentence.
  • Section 235 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) requires a judge to hear the accused after conviction on the question of sentence, and then pass sentence on him according to law.
  • In 1980, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment in ‘Bachan Singh v State of Punjab’ on the condition that the punishment will be awarded in the “rarest of the rare” cases.
  • Crucially, the ruling also stressed that a separate sentencing hearing would be held, where a judge would be persuaded on why the death sentence need not be awarded.
  • This position was reiterated in several subsequent rulings of the court, including in ‘Mithu v State of Punjab’, a 1982 ruling by a five-judge Bench that struck down mandatory death sentence as it falls foul of the right of an accused to be heard before sentencing.
  • However, there are conflicting rulings on when that separate hearing is supposed to take place.
  • At least three smaller Bench rulings have held that while a separate sentencing hearing is inviolable, they can be allowed on the same day as the conviction.