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The idea behind this blog is to collect information on the death penalty in India and make it accessible. We are trying our best to put the latest information on the people who are currently on death row, the status of their cases, their mercy petitions and also the information on any death sentence across the country. Please feel free to write us and give us your suggestions and comments and also any information you have come across regarding the death penalty in India. Our email id is abolishdeathpenaltyindia@gmail.com The blog is currently managed by Grace Pelly, Lara Jesani, Nitu Sanadhya, Rebecca Gonsalvez, Reena Mary George and Vijay Hiremath. Kindly mark copies of the emails to: vijayhiremath@gmail.com reena.mary.george@univie.ac.at

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Research Studies

Lethal Lottery: The Death Penalty in India

A report studies Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases in India from 1950 to 2006 and uncovers many inconsistencies.

THERE is very little officially compiled information on the award of capital punishment in India. This makes the task of understanding the relationship between the punishment and the incidence of crime for which death could be awarded as punishment challenging. Add to this the phenomenon of conflicting judgments coming from trial and high courts and from the Supreme Court itself on the nature of the crimes that can attract this penalty, and the challenge facing the researcher is likely to be insurmountable.

A recent study, jointly produced by Amnesty International India and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties Tamil Nadu & Puducherry, fills the void and exposes the inconsistencies in these judgments. The report was researched and written by Bikram Jeet Batra, consultant to Amnesty International India. Part I, written by Dr. V. Suresh and D. Nagasaila of the PUCL-TN&P, sets the tone for the entire report with its focus on the need to re-examine the death penalty in India.

Part II of the report cites Prison Statistics India 2005, compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, and states that there are 273 persons sentenced to death, as on December 31, 2005. But it does not clarify whether the figure refers to those whose sentences were passed by a trial court or those whose sentences were upheld by a High Court or the Supreme Court or whose mercy petitions were pending or had been rejected. In November 2006, Minister for Home Affairs Shivraj Patil told Parliament that there were 44 mercy petitions before the President, some of which had been pending from 1998 and 1999.

The NCRB states that there were 25 executions between 1995 and 2004. Twenty-four of these took place between 1995 and 1998, pointing to the fact that executions have decreased in the past decade. The NCRB has admittedly no data relating to the death penalty before 1995. The report cites a newspaper article (which itself refers to the 1967 Law Commission report) that suggests that at least 1,422 people were executed between 1954 and 1963 alone. The report notes that the Supreme Court admitted in judgments upholding the constitutionality of the death penalty that there had been no systematic study on whether this penalty was a greater deterrent to murder than the penalty of life imprisonment.

The research for this report involved the study of over 700 judgments reported in law journals between 1950 and 2006. In the first phase ending in 1975, the study found that Supreme Court judgments relied on a rather abstract phrase – “ends of justice” – to disguise the arbitrariness in the use of judicial discretion in sentencing. Thus, judgments regularly concluded with the mere assertion that the death sentence was being commuted or confirmed “to meet the ends of justice”. The study found that there were no clear, systematic principles governing sentencing.

1. errors in consideration of evidence -- most death sentences handed down in India are based on circumstantial evidence alone. In a 1994 Supreme Court appeal, the Court noted the main witness's memory constantly improved from his statement a few days after the incident to the trial three years later

2. inadequate legal representation -- concerns include "lawyers ignoring key facts of mental incompetence, omitting to provide any arguments on sentencing, or failing to dispute claims that the accused was under 18 years of age at the time of the crime despite evidence to the contrary"
anti-terrorist legislation -- concerns include "the broad definition of 'terrorist acts', insufficient safeguards on arrest, and provisions allowing for confessions made to police to be admissible as evidence"

3. arbitrariness in sentencing -- "in the same month, different benches of the Supreme Court have treated similar cases differently, with mitigating factors taken into account or disregarded arbitrarily"

4. failure of the courts and state authorities to consistently apply the procedures supposed to limit the death penalty to the "rarest of rare" cases.

In view of these inconsistencies, the report calls for an immediate moratorium on executions, pending abolition of the death penalty in India. The report will have served its purpose if it leads to introspection within the legislature, the executive and the judiciary on the relevance of the death penalty in India.

This article has been abstracted by reviewing the report "Lethal Lottery: The Death Penalty in India, A study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006 was published by Amnesty International India and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Tamil Nadu & Puducherry)and an Article that was published in FRONTLINE Volume 25 - Issue 13 :: Jun. 21-Jul. 04, 2008
by V.Venkatesan

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